Gray Matters - Take the time
Belfast — I am happy to say that by the time you all are reading this column, I will officially be on vacation.
This year I thought it would be fun to schedule it so that I can be off with my son Shane for his April vacation. I have a lot of work to do on his school yearbook, and it will give us a chance to work on that really fun project together.
Since vacation has been on my mind this week (maybe due to a little of that vacation-itis you hear about workers contracting as the time of their temporary freedom draws nearer), I started browsing the web for articles about American workers and their use of vacation time.
What I found made me a little sad, as the first six articles that popped up in a Google search were those detailing why lots of us Americans — as many as 70 percent — do not tend to take all of the paid time off they may be lucky enough to earn at their workplace.
Reasons for that are many, according to a recent article published in The Boston Globe, chief among them being that in a post-recession climate, there is a growing feeling among American workers that taking time off brings a number of risks that some feel are not worth taking. A fear of falling behind in their work and being viewed as an employee who is somehow less committed to the company seemed to be the big ones. Others who work for companies that pay departing employees for unused time off worry that they need to stockpile some of those hours in the event that they find themselves on the unemployment line.
An article posted at foxbusiness.com stated three in five workers admit to conducting some work-related business while on vacation. Up to one third of workers stay on the job because they feel no one else on staff is capable of doing their work, while 22 percent say they have "complete dedication" to the company they work for and another 19 percent forgo the respite because they want to get promoted to a higher position.
And both articles highlighted how much more difficult it is these days for workers to escape work than it was half a century ago, with the marked difference being the widespread use of cell phones and other portable technological devices that have managed to heighten employers' expectations. Nearly a quarter of the workers surveyed in the foxbusiness.com article reported that a fellow employee contacted them about a work issue during their vacation, while another 20 percent reported getting a call from their boss.
I think the big reason why I find these kinds of trends disheartening is because many of those workers highlighted in these studies and surveys are a lot like me, in that many are balancing the need to work and the desire to establish and build upon strong bonds with the people in our families, especially our children. Every time one of these workers passes on taking the time off that they've earned, their families miss out on all the potential memories that could have been made during that time.
My son will be nine years old in a few short weeks, and soon, he may not be as interested in spending time with me as he is at this stage in his life. The way I see it, I do not want to miss out on more opportunities to make these memories with him now than I must. I think it's terrible that there are folks in this country who feel they have to give that up, whether it is real or perceived on the workers' parts.
This is where I think a few of our neighboring countries could teach us a thing or two. According to a recent Forbes article, the United States is the only advanced economy that does not require employers to provide workers with any paid vacation time. This article stated that the sum of the average paid holidays and vacation days for American workers, which totals 16, would fall short of the minimum amount required by law in 19 other "rich" countries.
Coming from an industry that could easily keep one busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I get why workers are apprehensive about stepping away from their desks, even for a short time. And I am ashamed to say I am among those who have completed work tasks while also enjoying a little time off.
But I try not to do that, because I know from experience how important even a short span of rest and relaxation can be for your ability to focus on the job, and to do the job as well as you can.
And according to the Boston Globe piece, many studies have shown employees are happier and healthier, and therefore work harder, when they take some time for themselves.
Wow. I'm shocked [insert monotone use of voice to emphasize sarcasm here].
The real test for me, though, is the answer I arrive at when I ask myself what I am more likely to look back on, and be proud of, when I am an old woman moving toward the end of my days on this earth. My typical response is something like, "Well, I probably won't remember what exactly was being said at that school board meeting 20 years from now, but I'll never forget the time Shane and I worked on his school yearbook together."
I don't think Shane will forget it either.
As he grows, maybe he'll remember, too, that while there have been lots of times that I've had to put work ahead of family stuff, there were also plenty of occasions when I've used my vacation time to show him that he is the most important aspect of my life.
That said, I cannot think of a better reason to take that vacation.