EDITORIALS

Vacations: Take one for the boss

Posted June 27, 2011, at 9:05 p.m.

In workplaces across Vacationland, the weekly list of those on vacation will get a lot longer over the next 10 weeks. We survive long Maine winters, and summers here in the Pine Tree State are idyllic, with a lifetime’s worth of outdoor activities and scenic, natural beauty nearby, so summer is vacation time for residents and visitors alike.

But not everyone is taking the vacation time they work hard to earn, shortchanging themselves and their employers. According to a survey by the travel website Expedia, as many as a half-billion vacation days will go unused by the time 2012 rolls around. That’s equal to nearly two million years of lost vacation time.

And those who do take vacations are not unplugging from work. Of those, 92 percent check-in at work frequently. You know the type — they call, email, text questions and concerns, advice and reminders, convinced the workplace will degenerate into chaos without their oversight (or are they worried they won’t be missed?).

Is our inability to take and enjoy earned time off a throwback to the Protestant work ethic established in the early 17th century? Does it come from our immigrant roots, handed down from our great-grandparents who had to work harder than everyone else to achieve the American dream? Or have we been hoodwinked into thinking that taking earned time off is somehow unfair to our co-workers and employers, somehow a sign of weakness?

The roots explanation makes sense, given vacation statistics from other countries. The average American gets 13 days of vacation time a year. Canadians get, on average, 19 days. In Great Britain, it’s 26; in Germany, 27; in Spain, 30; in Italy, 31; and in France, 38 days. Workers in those countries also leave fewer vacation days unused than Americans.

The vacation deficit isn’t the only evidence that Americans don’t disengage from work. The American Dietetic Association found that 35 percent of U.S. workers don’t take breaks during the work day, eating lunch at our desks while returning emails and phone calls.

Many workers believe the nose-to-the-grindstone attitude will pay off in promotions, raises and being passed over if layoffs come. That may be true, but research has shown that such workers may be plodding along, rather than bringing creativity, fresh energy and enthusiasm to their jobs, which is bad for their employers.

According to writer Don Joseph Goewey, “Researchers have found that activity in the hippocampus and neocortex increase during periods of wakeful rest, especially after learning something new. The hippocampus and neocortex generate everything we think of as intelligence. Another way of saying this is: Refusing to take a break is a decision to be stupid that day. Refusing to take a vacation is a decision to grow dumber in the coming year.”

So take that vacation, turn off the smart phone and relax and do nothing or have fun playing. The first few days back at work may be tough, but after that, you’ll be recharged and fired up again. That’s the least you can do for the boss.

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