What is it about a vacation?
By Carole Townsend
July in Georgia. This is just about the time that many of us are packing up the kids and heading for a beach somewhere down south.
Oh, it’s plenty hot enough here in metro Atlanta; we just need a change of scenery. We need to get away from work, busy-ness and yes, we even need to get away from home, if even for a week. Vacations recharge us. They give us a new appreciation for our homes and jobs. I was shocked, then, when I recently read some statistics about workers in the United States.
According to FOXNews.com, one in four American workers does not have any paid time off from work. Of those workers who do, most typically earn 5 days vacation after one year, 10 days after 5 years, and so on until they reach several weeks’ paid time right around retirement age. By contrast, workers in France and Italy are given 31 days of paid vacation time. Japanese workers get 10 days off, and Canadians enjoy 19 days every year, no matter what the job may be.
Even more surprising? When we in the U.S. are eligible for paid vacation days, we often don’t take them. Seventy-five percent of U.S. employees with paid time off didn't take all their vacation in 2013 (I had to read that one twice). Who on earth would not use their paid days away from work? Even if you can’t afford to take a trip, take a break from the job. It’s just good business.
I had a boss many years ago, back in another age when I worked in the corporate world as Marketing Director for a software company. As a single mom and corporate heavy hitter, I had just two speeds: wide open and dead stop. There was no in-between. I always felt that there was so much to do that I could barely keep up; taking time away from work would just make my life more difficult when I returned. I’ll never forget my boss knocking softly on my office door, pulling up a chair and sitting down with me, insisting that I use some of my accrued paid vacation days. When I protested, he simply said to me that taking the time off would make me a better employee, not a slacker. Time away from work, according to this man, would help me recharge, rest, regroup and enjoy my children. When I returned, he promised, I would not feel quite so frazzled and stressed.
When he was through talking to me, he got up, left my office, and called his personal travel agent. I was stunned when he told me that he had booked a lovely trip for my children and me, and blocked out 5 days on my work calendar. No employer had ever done something like that for me, and none has since. It was a remarkably generous gesture. When I asked him why he went to such lengths to ensure my taking time off, he smiled and said, “You are an asset who, for whatever reason, refuses to follow company policy.” I just looked at him, confused.
“The policy here at (Company X) does not allow employees to carry over vacation time from one year to the next. I know that there are those who believe that the policy is unfair, but we enforce it for a reason. We want you to take the time. It’s just good business.”
I have never forgotten those words, or that generous deed. I always tried to treat my employees the same way through the years, and I encourage my husband – the original workaholic – to take breaks throughout the year. “It’s just good business.”
In an age of instant information and constant connectedness, I encourage you to take time away from work, immerse yourself in your family and loved ones, and change up the scenery a bit. Turn off the phone(s); leave the laptops and iPads at home. People my age remember a time when everyone did that, because we didn’t have cell phones, wireless Internet and all that jazz. And yet, we lived to vacation another day, and to work many more.
Besides, have you ever heard anyone declare on his death bed, “I sure do wish I had worked harder when I had the chance.”? Neither have I.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.