The Vacation Quandary Continues—Is a Law the Answer? I’m Not So Sure…

A new poll conducted for an organization called Take Back Your Time found that “69% of Americans support a paid vacation law with a large percentage favoring a law guaranteeing three weeks vacation or more.”  The poll also found that “among Americans, 28% took no vacation time at all last year and half took a week or less…the median time off was 8.2 days.”  There is no doubt that finding time to disconnect from work and to reenergize and reconnect with our loved ones is difficult in a 24/7, high-tech, global reality.  A law might be a good, but I’m not sure it’s going to solve the problem. 

I’ve blogged about the vacation challenge both from a personal perspective and an expert perspective on a number of occasions over the years.  My postings usually coincide with my own vacation struggles (click here and here for links).  And, as I read the findings of the new poll, I was reminded that the challenges related to vacation are actually three separate issues:

1) People don’t get paid vacation (according to 2006 Bureau of Labor Statistics, that represented about 25% of workers)

2) People don’t take the vacation they have (according to a 2006 Steelcase study 61% of employees took their allocated vacation)

3) People take vacation, but work while they are on it (in 2006, 55% of men and 43% of women took work on vacation)

The paid vacation law proposed by Take Back Your Time (, would definitely help the 25% of workers who don’t have paid vacation.  But what about the other two groups?  How is a law going to help the people who don’t take the vacation allocated to them, or the people who work on their vacations?

I see these scenarios played out all of the time inside companies.  You have two people, doing the same job, for the same manager.  One of them seems to have no trouble taking all of his or her vacation, and the other person hasn’t had a vacation in two years.  How is a law going to change that?  As a senior executive once said to me, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.  I’m not sure what else we can do except schedule a vacation for them.”  Unfortunately, if you wait for a “good” time to take vacation, it never seems to come.  You just have to schedule it, and too many of us don’t (For more on this, see my “vacation quandary” post from August 31, 2006).

Then there are the people like me who struggle not to work during vacation.  Once again, as my vacation approaches, I’m consciously vowing to limit the amount of work I am going to do.  The fact that we are traveling to a pretty remote island location that has “spotty” email and mobile reception may help my cause.  But in the end, will I bring work-related reading to “catch-up on” or finally pick up the novel that’s been gathering dust on my nightstand?  Unfortunately, a law won’t help me choose the novel.  Only I can make that decision. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think a paid vacation law would be a great start.  But I reach the same conclusion each year I revisit the vacation quandary.  In many cases, we are our own worst enemy.  Even with a law, we will still have to figure out how to take the vacation we are allocated.  And, when we are on that vacation, it’s up to us to resist the urge to work. 

I’ll let you know how I manage my vacation when I return, but I’d like to hear from you.  How to you deal with the vacation quandary?  Any tips or strategies you’d like to share? 

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  • Rich Sherman

    Hey.. I know I rarely comment, but can I throw in my 2 cents?

    One thing – I don’t take too much vacation because it’s simply a nightmare before and after.. It’s a foregone conclusion that I’m probably going to check email a bit (on vacation) –and I’m actually OK with that.. but let’s say I take off a week (40 traditional hours), I bet I work 20 extra hours before I go, and 20 extra hours when I come back, just to make it up.. OK yeah I run my own company so that’s probably some of it.. but I think others are in a similar situation..

    Why do we work on vacation? I know you like your job, and you know I like my work.. but let’s face it, we’d rather be doing something else.. we work because we basically need to work.. I don’t work on vacation because I miss work, it’s because the need is there.. we generally have too much work stuff on our plates, that is why I think we do it.. To me the heart of the matter comes down to money and stuff.. We want too much stuff, so we need to work (too much) to pay for it.. I think it’s as simple as that.. For me, its not that I want the stuff – trust me, I could care less.. I live in a 1BR apt and pay 1165/mo for it, and I just got my gas bill.. It was $10 for last month.. I wake up on a snowy day and the walk is shoveled already.. I love it… I have all I need here (as far as stuff).. and I love living here.. OK sure I know a family of 4 can’t live here, but on the other extreme, the oversized houses and related carrying costs are causing an incredible financial strain – and I think that strain causes the need to work more.. a lot more.. I also know I’ve worked this much so I could work toward getting the college and retirement stuff set.. I’m scared to death of being underfunded and then looking back and say that I pissed the money away when I had the chance to save it.. I think retirement will cost a fortune and what most people are doing (in general) is simply not going to be enough.. My point is that everyone works (too much) for a reason.. if you don’t assess and adjust that reason, we are doomed to keep working like this.. just my 2 cents..

  • Jeni Paulson

    I think its imperative for people to take at least a week long vacation each year to recharge your batteries. As I've built my business I've been as guilty as the next person in not taking vacation - but I've found that when I take a full week vacation and leave ALL the work at home that I return to work in a better frame of mind and better able to handle what's waiting for me. Your job and the world won't come to a halt if you're out of the office for a week or two and you will really benefit from taking the time to concentrate on YOU and leave the work stresses behind for a few days.

  • Cynthia Campbell

    The nature of what we consider a 'vacation' is also morphing as the world goes 24x7. The traditional vacation week scheduled once or twice a year to recharge isn't always effective. More and more people stretch those vacation days into many more mini-vacations... an afternoon off, an extra day or two for the weekend can be just as effective if you are able to really disconnect.