One day about 12 years ago I was helping a friend pick grapes in his vineyard. The conversation turned to finding a work-life balance with adequate time off for travel.
As a public school teacher, I was finding that my 14 weeks off were insufficient for the travel I had planned. My input to the discussion was to quip, “I already have all my sick days planned for the year.”
Travel Effect is the U.S. Travel Association’s research-driven initiative to prove the personal, business, social and economic benefits that taking earned time off can deliver. We aim to shift culture so that using personal time off is not considered frivolous, but essential to strengthening families and improving personal health; a business investment with proven returns and an economic necessity.
There is a new report released today from Travel Effect. Here are some of the report findings.
Americans are overwhelmed—but they aren’t taking the breaks they’ve earned. Nearly three-quarters of workers say they are stressed at work, with one-in-four reporting they are either “very” or “extremely” stressed.
It’s no surprise that Americans feel this way. Many workers leave their paid time off (PTO) unused, despite near-universal recognition of the importance and benefits of using PTO, from reducing stress to improving productivity when we return to work.
My wife has been a public school teacher for 20 years, yet last night she was completely stressed out about the first day of school today. I spent two hours last night filling out name tags and sorting papers and sharpening pencils. Tonight I will likely be doing similar chores to reduce her stress for tomorrow, the second day of school. In the past two weeks I have put about 40 hours of my time into helping her with her job. Fortunately, schools close for vacation breaks and getting time-off as a teacher is not an issue as long as it is not one of the 180 work days of the teaching calendar.
I have also worked in private industry and I know the difficulties of using paid time off in the workplace.
America’s Hard-Charging Work Culture
America’s always-on work culture exerts powerful influence on our decisions about using Paid Time Off (PTO).
Some of the leading cultural barriers include:
A Negative Vibe About PTO: Two-thirds of American workers (67%) say their company says nothing about taking time off, sends mixed messages or discourages them from using PTO.
About one-in-five Americans (19%) say their company culture sends mixed signals or actively discourages them from using PTO.
Nearly half (48%) report that their company culture neither encourages nor discourages PTO, leading to anxiety about how their time away from work is seen by their employers.
When asked to name barriers to taking time off, one-fifth of workers cited their company’s culture (20%).
Americans are too afraid and stressed to take days off from work
The two most common reasons survey respondents cited for not taking a break: They dread the pile of work awaiting them when they return, and no one else can do what they do at the office. These people suffer from what the researchers called a “martyr” complex, believing that they’re the only ones who can do their jobs.
Most telling: More than 20 percent of workers said one of the main reasons they aren’t taking all of their vacation days is because they don’t want to appear replaceable.
This is just a small sample of data from resources on TravelEffect.com.
I worked in private sector food industry employment where my vacation days were dictated by the vacation weeks taken by more senior employees since the testing laboratory always had to be staffed.
I worked in public schools where the days off were set long in advance, but also coincided with peak rate holiday travel at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Presidents Week, Easter and summer vacation. Points and miles were instrumental in keeping costs down and my experience traveling during peak holidays using points and miles led to my current self-employment as a travel writer.
I worked in publishing with a 9-to-5 schedule, yet arbitrary and fixed deadlines often limited my ability to travel when I wanted and even then, I was frequently asked to do work while on vacation or even worse, given unpaid vacation days when work slowed. I found it kind of hard to use unpaid and unplanned vacation days for travel with no income.
Self-employment allows me to achieve a good work-life balance and the unused paid time off afflicting so many others with the inability to vacation is a fading memory. My problem these days is convincing myself to maintain sufficient paid time on and write travel pieces when the weather is gorgeous and the beaches are waving at me.
I am my own boss and sometimes I have to remind myself that my time off is mostly unpaid time off. Without a doubt, my productivity improves after a day spent outside, away from my computer. I think it took me three years of working Loyalty traveler before my mindset changed to be an everyday self-employed worker. Fortunately, I have created a work-life balance where I work nearly every day at writing, but I am not a 24/7 worker.
Now it is time to go to my house cleaning job and scrub our two bathrooms. Then, I will walk Carmel Beach before grocery shopping. That is work-life balance for me today.
Don’t fear diving head-first into time off for travel. Your mind will benefit from the travel effect.
Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.
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