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posted on 01 July 2015

The New American Art Form - Stretching National Holidays Into Legitimate Vacations

by Challenger Gray and Christmas

This week, millions of American workers will take advantage of the three-day weekend resulting from the Friday observance of Independence Day, which falls on Saturday. Many will stretch that three-day weekend into a four- or five-day weekend by using one or two of their precious vacation days. After all, if you can get a proper five-day vacation by only using two vacation days, why not take advantage?

These are the careful calculations that Americans must make when trying to figure out how to divide their two weeks (10 days) of vacation time each year. Of course, these calculations only apply to those workers lucky enough to be employed by the 77 percent of companies that offer vacation days. Said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement and executive coaching consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.:

America is woefully behind other developed nations when it comes to providing vacation days. Most other advanced economies require employers to give workers a minimum number of paid vacation days. In the European Union, the floor is 20 days, but most countries offer more. Workers in France, for example, have 30 days of paid vacation.

.In one respect, the prevailing vacation policy has resulted in American workers being the most productive in the world. However, the trade-off is most likely a lower quality of life, including lower satisfaction with one's job and/or life, higher stress, and higher health care costs, all of which adversely impact companies' bottom lines and the economy, as a whole.

In a guest article for Fast Company, Danish author and business consultant Alexander Kjerulf cited Gallup Poll results showing that 18 percent of American workers are actively disengaged in their jobs. Just 10 percent of Danish workers said the same. Kjerulf went on to point out that a good portion of Danes' happiness at work is likely related to the fact they get 5 to 6 weeks of paid vacation and logs an average of 1,540 work hours per year, compared to the 1,790 hours toiled by Americans. Said Challenger:

As it stands, workers here are forced to cobble together national holidays and vacation days in order to maximize their vacation time. Stretching Memorial Day into a four-day weekend or managing to save up for a week at Thanksgiving has become an art form for U.S. workers.

Even with just 10 vacation days to spread out over the year, a survey last year by the U.S. Travel Association found that 40 percent of all Americans do not use all of their vacation time out of fear of job loss, being passed over for promotion, not getting a salary increase, and being over-inundated with work upon returning from vacation.

The answer to America's vacation problem is unlikely to come from federal or state governments. Most Americans have an aversion to the government telling employers what to do when it comes to wages and time off, even if European-like mandated vacation time would benefit them.

The answer must come from employers, who must become more insistent on workers using their vacation time. This will not only benefit the employee, but the employer, as well, in terms of increased productivity, lower turnover, higher job satisfaction, increased employee engagement, etc.

HubSpot, a Massachusetts-based marketing software developer, requires all employees to take at least two weeks off per year. And, while a growing number of companies offer employees unlimited vacation time, a handful, such as Evernote and FullContact, provide financial incentives to actually use that time. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Evernote offers to pay each employee $1,000 to get away. FullContact offers employees $7,500 per year to help fund a non-working vacation. Challenger concludes:

Such policies should not be isolated to the tech sector. Workers in health care, manufacturing, construction, food service and retail, have just as much right to enjoy time-off from work without the threat of job loss or demotion hanging over their heads. Workers in every other developed country are able to take far more vacation time without their economies collapsing (at least not as a result of mandated vacation policies). It is time for workers here to enjoy the same benefits.

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