I’m currently pondering this question as I sit on the balcony of the condo where I’m vacationing in Myrtle Beach. I think Americans ask this question frequently. It’s a by-product of staunch meritocracy beliefs in our society, I think, to think that we must work, work, work with little play. It’s also seemingly the foundation of Capitalism to exploit the average worker. But truly, taking time off from your job is good for you, providing a much needed break from stress and preventing burnout. So why does American society not respect this need?
Think about how little vacation we are allowed as full time employees. You get two, maybe 3 weeks a year, if you’re lucky. And if you’re sick, those days come out of this time as well. It’s even worse if you work part time. And some companies will force full time hours while still classifying you as part time to deny benefits. I worked for a company that would never allow time off, always creating excuses as to why I couldn’t go on vacation with my family because of “staffing” issues, etc. It was enough to create significant anxiety and was a pivotal factor in my choice to leave the job.
What is the standard in other Western countries? Well, it may surprise you that in the US, there is absolutely no legal requirement for your employer to provide vacation days. However, any country in the European Union is required to provide at least 4 weeks vacation. Many countries provide even more time off. I’ve read arguments about why the US policy, or rather, lack thereof, is more than fair based on the average salaries of the US vs. EU. However, they fail to calculate the cost of healthcare in the US vs. the EU. I’m certain that would more than make up the difference.
And what about time off for maternity leave? In the US, there is no requirement, and certainly barriers in place that make it challenging to even get some money while recovering from childbirth and bond with your new family member, and this is typically in the form of a short term disability policy that you must buy. (I’m also old enough to remember that I had to also purchase a maternity rider so that my pregnancy would be covered by insurance. Otherwise, an accidental pregnancy would have meant paying out of pocket for those expenses. The ACA stopped this discriminatory practice.) In contrast, the European Union requires at least 4 months off per parent.
This is just the practical aspects of American culture and vacations. The belief that we are more worthy as members of society and more noble and giving to our companies if we don’t take vacation is harmful in my opinion. This also results in more “long weekend” types of mini vacations vs. long weeks off, thus not adequately unplugging from the normal stressors of your job. And even when you do go on vacation, many jobs expect you to check in periodically. To maintain our wellness, we must take breaks. And even though I love my job, it gets overwhelming from time to time. I absolutely love where I work right now. I feel valued. My boss knows that I give 110% while I’m there, but that when I need a day to recoup, I mean it. It’s the luxury I have by working PRN. But my husband bears the burden of working full time and carrying the benefits to allow me to work this way, and for that, I’m so grateful.
Have you ever gone on vacation and felt guilty the whole time, thus virtually eliminating any joy you should have taken from your time off? This is me on any girls’ trip. I will sabotage my happiness by ruminating on the money I’ve spent on lodging or race fees, etc, thinking that I shouldn’t be wasting money on myself. I don’t know why I do that.
This vacation is our annual trip to the beach with my husband’s parents. We are very lucky to have access to this time. And this year, I’ve worked really hard. I’m going to give myself some grace for all the time spent in layers of PPE caring for Covid patients, and all of that time wearing an N95 to protect my non-Covid patients from catching it. I will finally allow myself to feel that I deserve this.
Do you ever feel guilty taking vacation? Have you been able to travel now that most Covid restrictions have been lifted? I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’re up to this summer. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.