Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Vacation days: do you use them or lose them?

How many vacation days do you get?  And do you take all those you're entitled to?  According to an article in today's RedEye (the Chicago Tribune "lite"), 574 million vacation days a year go unused in America.
We already get relatively little paid vacation to start with.  According to the article, Americans average 14 vacation days a year-- and 25% of U.S. employees get no paid days off (of any kind, including sick days and holidays).  Compare that to European countries, where employers are required by law to give 20 or 25 days of vacation.  The U.S. is the only industrialized country without laws giving employees the right to paid vacation.
And then, even though we have less vacation days to begin with, we still leave more days unused-- 4 a year, on average, compared to 1 or 2 in European countries.  So we actually end up taking less than half the amount of vacation as our European counterparts.
The article includes a quote:
Culturally, it might be a matter of priorities: Europeans may prefer to be rewarded for their work with vacation, while Americans like having one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world and are willing to work longer to get paid more, Allegretto said.
That is, Europeans tend to choose time over money, while Americans pick money over time.  If you take it a step further, Europeans prefer time, and Americans prefer "things" (yes, I know in some cases people are saving the money, so it's "security" or "time in the future" versus "time now"... but in a lot of cases, really, it's "things").  Obviously these sorts of choices fit into a much larger cultural context, both as far as the relative value of time versus money/"things" as well as how taking time off is viewed in the workplace.
The organization Take Back Your Time is making a valiant attempt to affect this greater cultural context as much as it can.  They have a Take Back Your Time Day coming up on October 24th-- nine weeks before the end of the year, because Europeans work the equivalent of nine weeks (360 hours) less a year than Americans on average, between more paid time off and less overtime-- and I will surely write more about it as the time approaches.  But I encourage you to check out the website in the meantime!
As for me, I never let a vacation day go to waste, but I also don't always pick time over money.  This is a little complicated, but...  I get 15 vacation days and 9 comp days (which function the same as vacation, really).  I roll over the maximum of 10 days vacation every year (I used all 9 comp days my first year but none of my then-10 vacation days-- mostly because I wasn't eligible to during my first six months, which included the summer-- and have maintained those in reserve ever since), but I've used my full allotment of 10 vacation days in year two, and am on pace to use all 15 in year three.  I'm also able to cash out up to 3 unused comp days at the end of each year, and I try to do so, but I also make sure to use at least 6 comp days so I don't leave anything on the table.
There are definitely times I'm tempted not to take vacation because there's too much to do.  It's usually hectic and stressful catching up when I get back, and sometimes I feel bad about important work being delayed when I'm not there to do it. But taking time off makes me happy, whether it's for a long vacation, an extended weekend, or just a single day off when I really need it.  I like spending time with people I care about, visiting interesting places and doing interesting things, and having time that's obligation-free.  And I think in the long run it's good for my performance at work, too; when I've gone too long without a vacation, my focus and concentration wanders and my stress levels increase, and I'm just not at my best. 
How much vacation time do you get?  Do you use all of it?  How do you feel about that? 


Chuck said...

At my company we get 10 vacation days (varies depending on service but thats how many I get this year) of which we can roll over 5 days, 2 floating holidays - basically vacation days but can't be rolled over, and 5 personal business days.

My basic strategy is to use the 5 personal business days first because towards the end of the year when everyone is trying to use up their time they typically start clamping down on using them for things other than what they deem personal business, even though it is not very clear in employee handbook what actually is. Then I use the 2 floating holidays. Then finally I use at least 5 vacation days.

I try to use all my time available that isn't able to be rolled over, though I have been bit a few times by the personal business build up at the end of the year so am trying to avoid that now.

WH said...

My company only gives us 10 days, sick & personal days combined. From the sound of your post though, it may be time to start jobhunting again!

btw - love your list of things you love. Life is really about the not-so-little things. =)

fin_indie said...

I get 3 weeks, but only after being at my company for some time (currently 9 years). I make an extra effort to take what is rightfully mine. I always take all my vacation time.

There never is a good time and I find that if you remind your co-workers that there is never a good time and occasionally ask them if/when they are taking their vacation time, you can usually get away without people feeling envious.

Madame X said...

I get 3 weeks-- 2 weeks is standard but I negotiated for more when I started. I knew I wanted to have time to travel, and also they weren't giving me quite as much money as I was asking for, so I figured they'd throw me a bone!
There may have been a year or two when I forgot to use a day, but they don't let you carry them over so I try to use every bit of time off I am entitled to!

GolbGuru said...

My university gives me 5 days of vacation a year! That sucks big time. Sometimes profanities are at the tip of my tongue when I discuss this so I will just cut it short here. This place really needs to treat graduate students better...

Rebecca said...

Thank you for mentioning Take Back Your Time! I heart them. Along similar lines, I highly recommend the book In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, by Carl Honore.

HC said...

I get the equivalent of 13 vacation and 13 sick days per year, along with 10 automatic holidays. Sick leave can accrue forever, but any type of medical leave (family care, maternity, etc) is supposed to come out of that. Vacation/annual leave can be accrued up to 30 days (240 hours), and anything above that is use or lose. At the moment, I have over 16 days of annual leave and two days of sick leave (I had to draw down my balance earlier this year).

After mid-year 2007, when I'll start getting more annual leave per pay period, I'll actually start bumping up against the use-or-lose threshold. At that point, I'll start taking all the days to which I'm entitled.

I haven't done it before now because I consider leave to be my substitute disability insurance. Until such time as I can afford those premiums, having about a month of paid combined leave is my best insurance policy.

Anonymous said...

My company gives ten vacation days for your first two years, and then 15 vacation days thereafter. We also accrue a personal day about each month. When I started, I negotiated starting out with 15 vacation days, as I had "flex-time" (vacation and personal days rolled into one) at my previous employer, of 15 days. So, now, I get about 28 days plus holidays. We can rollover 5 vacation days, and up to 60 personal days, total. So, I can have no more than 20 vacation days at a time, and no more than 60 personal days. My first year, I did not use any vacation, as it was a partial year, and it was pro-rated. So, I had five vacation days rolled over for this year, and I have only used one. I am planning on using all but five of them this year, and then will rollover the remaining five.

At my previous employer, we could cash out our vacation time, which I always did, and I never took any. That was great, but it is not an option here. And truthfully, I don't think I could go much longer without taking some serious vacation time.

I have setup my vacation time to work with holidays. We get Thanksgiving and the day after off, as well as the Friday before Christmas and the Monday after. So, I am using vacation time to take off the entire week of Thanksgiving, and the week before Christmas, as well as a few days after Christmas. I am taking three vacation days the before the week of Thanksgiving, as well, for some classes I will be attending that are not work-related.

RTH said...

At my company we get 20 vacation days from day one. 10 sick days and 10 paid holidays. On top of that we have 3 months of 7 hour days and about a month and a half of 4 hour days and 6 days of extra vacation that can be take over those shorter days. Most people don't end up taking all that time off but we get it because we are at a school and most employees (faculty) get way more time off than us.