It’s summertime and too many American workers will not take the downtime to which they are entitled. That is not a testimony to our dedication to work. Rather, it is a testimony to the pressure of the workplace at a time when technology supposedly has made living and working easier. It’s bad enough that Americans earn the least amount of annual vacation time among workers in industrialized nations. Online travel agency Expedia.com says Americans earn 14 days of annual vacation, compared with 24 days in Britain, 26 in Germany, 30 in Spain and 36 in France. Worse, however, is the fact that Americans on average will not use three days of those 14 days, up from 1.8 days in 2002 . This comes to more than 439 million unused days in 2007. The estimated value of the unused vacation days this year is $60.46 billion.
For the last seven years, Expedia has annually spotlighted the growing trend of American workers not taking all their vacation days. In its 2007 Vacation Deprivation survey, conducted by Harris Interactive between March 28 and April 12, the agency found that 51.2 million Americans are vacation-deprived. About one-third of employed U.S. adults (35 percent) usually do not take all of the vacation days they receive each year, “representing a continued directional increase from 33 percent reported in 2006 and 31 percent in 2005,” the survey says. Possible barriers to full use of vacation days, it says, include the need to schedule vacation time in advance (13 percent); getting money back for unused vacation days (12 percent); and “work is life and it’s too hard to get away” (10 percent).
About two in five employed U.S. adults (41 percent) report regularly working more than 40 hours per week. As in 2006, more than one-fifth (23 percent) of employed adults check work e-mail or voicemail while vacationing, compared with only 16 percent in 2005. About one in five employed adults also reported that they’ve canceled or postponed vacation plans because of work (19 percent). Employed U.S. adults most commonly anticipate using the majority of their vacation time for 2007 by taking a power week (40 percent)—at least one full week of vacation and using the remaining time here and there); a much smaller number (14 percent) plan to take a full, two-week vacation in 2007.
In a previous survey, Expedia quoted Dorothy Cantor, renowned psychologist and author of What Do You Want to Do When You Grow Up? (Little, Brown and Co., 2001), as saying, “Workplace stress can take its toll. In order to maintain a strong state of mental health, the human body needs a release and a source of replenishment.” Dr. Cantor noted that an ideal vacation “should eliminate stress, encourage relaxation and provide opportunities for rejuvenation, making the benefits of the experience immeasurable.” And indeed, nearly two in five employed U.S. adults (39 percent) in Expedia’s 2007 survey report feeling better about their job and feeling more productive upon returning from vacation. At the same time, however, a staggering one-third of employed adults (33 percent) say they often have trouble coping with stress from work at some point during the vacation cycle.
In June, The Network Journal celebrated the 10th anniversary of its 40 Under-Forty Dynamic Achievers Awards. That gives us a database of 400 high achievers. Much is expected of these honorees as the next generation of Black business leaders. In addition to adhering to the eight principles of Black Belt excellence—honesty, integrity, humility, courtesy, harmony, self-discipline, perseverance and an indomitable spirit—let’s hope they make full use of the vacation they earn. Their leadership will depend on it.
By Rosalind McLymon