So I’m reading this press release about a new pitch being developed by one of the cruise lines, Royal Caribbean International. The theme: “Cruise them or lose them.”
The “them” refers to your vacation days, and the tendency of we Americans to kiss off far too many of them. Yeah, they’ve got cruise ship cabins they’re desperate to fill, but behind the funny pitch are some serious issues.
It’s long been known that the average working adult in the United States gets the least amount of vacation time per year in the industrialized world:
- Italy, 42 days
- France, 37
- Germany 35
- Brazil 34
- Britain 28
- Canada 26
- Japan and South Korea, tie 25
- United States 13
The Japanese and South Koreans, neither of whom have a reputation for slacking off in the workplace, are the next lowest — and they still average almost twice as much vacation time as Americans.
What’s more, workers in many countries, including Japan, have a certain mininum number of vacation days required by law. Not here.
THE $19 BILLION GIVEAWAY
And of his or her 13 average vacation days, the typical American will give three of those back to their employer. According to the folks at Expedia (another outfit with a vested interest in getting us to travel more), that saves American employers an average of $19.3 billion a year.
Did you even get a thank-you card last Christmas for your share of this $19 billion gift? I’m betting you didn’t.
According to some numbers crunched from 2009 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, we Americans collectively worked through a whopping 459 million vacation days last year.
That’s shade over 1 million years of time off you could’ve taken, America, and didn’t.
It gets worse.
A travel industry survey showed nearly half of those polled, 45 percent, blew off vacation time last year, and 78 percent expect to forfeit ten days of vacation in 2010.
Such surveys have even shown that more than a few Americans actually feel guilty about using their paltry vacation time.
The rest of the world looks at this and thinks we’re nuts. I look at it and think they’re right.
MORE PRODUCTIVE, MORE STRESSED
Nor is this a function of the Great Recession. We’ve always been like this. You know, that whole Puritan work ethic thing? And we wonder why we constantly feel weary in body and spirit?
(Perhaps somebody should’ve reminded our ancestors that the Puritans were religious extremists who basically got run out of England.)
Juliet B. Schor, Harvard economist and author of “The Overworked American,” was tracking this stuff back in 1990:
“Since 1948, productivity has failed to rise in only five years. The level of productivity of the U.S. worker has more than doubled…Yet hours have risen steadily for two decades. In 1990, the average American owns and consumes more than twice as much as he or she did in 1948, but also has less free time.”
We as a nation are among the most stressed out people on Earth, and we have no one to blame for it but ourselves. To paraphrase an old TV commercial from back in the day, we’re creating more and earning more, but enjoying it less.
Some folks, especially those in the mental health business, might well look at all this and wonder: What is the point?
Many of us actually love our jobs; the problem is that the job will never love you back.
Face it, it’s not as if your workplace can’t go on without you. The 6.3 million men and women laid off in the last three years can attest to that. So why are you killing yourself for an employer who not only doesn’t love you, anyway, but who may not even know your name?
And if you’re one of those Americans who routinely gives away vacation days every year, you are indeed killing yourself.
John de Graaf runs a non-profit outfit that calls itself Take Back your Time. He has some stats of his own.
“Men who take them are 32% less likely to suffer from heart disease than those who don’t. For women, it’s 50%. And women who don’t take vacations are more than twice as likely to suffer from depression.”
So if your doctor ever writes you a one-word prescription that just says “MAUI,” he may just may be trying to save your life.