Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Do I need a Vacation?

I remember an episode of Gilligan's Island in which Gilligan was asked to undertake an unsavory task (narrows it down, huh?). I remember his head shaking, arms folded "you can't make me, you can't make me . . ."   Then, as per usual, they made him. Not saying the show was unpredictable, but it was funny back in the day. 

There is much in the news about our evolving workforce and workplace. As the workplace evolves, there will be changes and challenges. We are seeing it in things like telecommuting, evolving evidentiary standards, and statutory shifts affecting the very core of workers' compensation. In our profession it behooves us to watch these trends and to question what effect they could have on this marketplace.

Much of what we deal with is statutorily defined and mandated. Recently, there was a Money article that noted Japan's plan to legislatively force people to take their vacation time. Japan is poised to "make it the legal responsibility of employers to ensure that workers use their holiday time."  Their studies have concluded that the "health, social and productivity costs of Japan's extreme work ethic were too high." The Japanese people are characterized by this article as "workaholics." 

It notes that the "average Japanese worker used only 7 of the 18 vacation days allotted each year, or 39% of their annual paid leave." How many of your leave days did you use last year? The article says that workers in the United States were "second only to Japan" in failing to take allotted leave. It cites an Oxford Economics study that concluded the U.S. workers "typically left 3 vacation days on the table." For some groups the average was as high as 8 days. 

That is for those who take paid vacation. Surprisingly, the study noted that 17% of Japanese do not take any vacation each year. Before you are too shocked by that statistic, know that 13% of United States workers do likewise. For comparison, the percentage taking no vacation time in Australia was exactly 0%.

How much are we working? According to a Gallup Poll last August, eighteen percent of full-time workers work more than 60 hours per week. Another twenty-one percent work 50-59 hours. Another eleven percent work 40-49. That is an even fifty percent of full-time American workers work more than 40 hours weekly. Forty-two percent work precisely 40 hours. Only eight percent are privileged to work less than 40 hours. It is interesting that it is a 50/50 split at or below 40 compared to above 40. 

Forbes reports that the average work hours in South Korea are 2,357. South Korea ranked number one. The Dutch reported the lowest average work hours annually, at 1,391. To put that into perspective, that is 47 per week (at 50 work weeks annually and two weeks vacation) in South Korea and 28 hours per week in the Netherlands. The United States came in ninth on the list with 1,797, or about 36 per week.

For whatever reason, we do not spend all of our time at the office being productive. Inc. Magazine reports that sixty-one percent of us admit to spending thirty to 60 minutes a day that is not actually work. Our greatest distractions? Number one was Google. Then came social media, meetings, and email.  If we had les distraction, would we be more productive and thus more inclined to take the vacation time?

The Huffington Post recently reported that 40% of United States workers leave vacation time on the table at the end of the year. This analysis says that Americans suffer from "work martyr complex." Respondents to the survey discussed in this article cited four main reasons for not taking their allotted vacation.

The first is "dread of returning from vacation to piles of work." Forty percent cited this. Who has not returned from vacation to find an inbox stacked full of thorny problems? We get the feeling that some or all of them could have been avoided or at least minimized if we had been there when they occurred. Instead, we return to confront the rolling snowball that they have become in the ensuing days of our absence. This is the perceived problem that inaction in our absence will lead to greater issues.

The second is the belief that "no one will be able to step in" for us in our absence. We fear that the job will not be done right while we are gone. This is not the inaction fear, but the opposite. Here we fear that someone will step into the fray in our absence and make it worse not better. We have all had failures in our professional lives. We have each fallen in some respect or another. That is a truth we have to recognize. We each have done it and we grew from the experience. We have to afford others the same opportunities to have experiences and to grow in the process. They cannot if we are always there. 

The third reason cited is perhaps hardest to overcome, that is "not being able to afford it." Vacation is expensive. The bills at home do not stop while we are away. But even a vacation at home can bring some peace perhaps. Working in the yard, walking in the park or along the beach. There are some very peaceful and restful things that can be done close to home for little expense. 

The final reason given as an excuse for not taking vacation is the "fear of being seen as replaceable." We can all just get over ourselves on this one. We are all replaceable. I have written that phrase many times. Some in any organization would obviously be harder to replace than others, but no one is irreplaceable. That is simply a fact. The world once upon a time survived without each of us just fine, and it will continue to do so when we are gone. We have to learn to let go and admit that one.  

So the numbers support that Americans work hard, but that there are distractions in our work-day. The information suggests that we are reluctant to take vacation. But if we don't, would the U.S. will follow Japan's lead and make us? Of course, like Calvin in Monday's post, perhaps at best they could make us stay away from work, but could they make us respect the spirit of vacation and actually enjoy it?

Don't call today, I don't think I am coming in.

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