When it comes to offering little vacation time, America is one of the worst offenders.
Part of the problem is that American companies are not required by law to offer paid vacation time for their employees. Compared that to most European countries, which offer at least 20 and up to 35 paid days off a year.
In fact, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40 percent of Americans, or 55 million people, don't get paid vacation or sick time.
If you are one of the lucky ones to receive vacation time, you might not even take it: 57 percent of workers have unused vacation time at the end of the year, averaging 11 days.
Time off is a necessity, not a luxury
Vacation-smaycation, you say! I love working my tush off. Turns out, you aren't doing your body any favors by putting in overtime.
It took me several years to realize how frustrated I was, caring about employers who ultimately didn't care about me.
CNN reports that new studies show that lack of sufficient time off can lead to coronary disease and heart attacks in both men and women. If forgoing a vacation can possibly kill us, and we complain of being overworked all of the time, why is this something Americans don't take more seriously?
Exactly one year ago, I dove headfirst into the freelance pool. Though this past year has been speckled with financial anxiety and forgetting to put on real pants, my overall mental and physical health has improved in more ways than I could have imagined. It took me several years to realize how frustrated I was, caring about employers who ultimately didn't care about me.
My last full-time, salaried job gave employees five vacation days a year. Those five days included sick and personal time. In other words, if I got sick or had to go to the DMV or dentist, there went my time home for Christmas. Scared to call in sick when I was very ill — and angry that I was put in such a position — I found morale at work in constant flux and myself in tears over the fact I wouldn't be able to see my family.
I used to tell myself that I was still young and had to "pay my dues," but having worked salaried jobs that often required 10- to 12-hour days with little vacation time for most of my 20s, it finally dawned on me how unhappy I was. I needed to make a change before I woke up one day at 40, miserable and exhausted.
We should no longer feel guilty for taking a vacation or even running an errand during work. Time off is not a privilege; it's a right, and you should always remember that.
Take matters into your own hands
I made the change. I went freelance. I know not everyone can make the leap to self-employed, and I feel tremendously lucky (even though I don't have the same health and retirement benefits as you). Regardless, we are all due the necessary time to see our loved ones and cultivate a life beyond work. Our health and the health of our loved ones depends on it. We all deserve time off. Period.
We should no longer feel guilty for taking a vacation or even running an errand during work. Time off is not a privilege; it's a right.
Since I left that last salaried job, I've taken more than 40 vacation days — with many afternoon errands and naps in between — after years of neglecting both my sleep and personal tasks. Although I often stand anxiously by the mailbox waiting for a freelance check to come in, I'm making more per hour, which helps me afford trips to see family and friends for the first time in my adult life.
In addition a lack of legislation for vacation and sick time, according to Forbes, America is one of three countries not to offer paid maternity or paternity benefits. Countries like neighboring Canada offers 50 weeks of paid maternity leave; Norway offers 44. The good old U.S. offers a big, fat zero. The Families and Medical Leave Act does afford for 12 weeks of unpaid leave for, among other things, the birth of a child, but not many workers can go three months without a paycheck.
So how do we change this? How do we get time back to have babies, raise them and spend time with them and the other people we love — including ourselves? I wish there was a concrete answer. Sometimes we just have to take jobs that don't offer vacation or sick time, and even if we do have it, sometimes we can't take the time off.
My best advice is no matter your work situation, try to remember to take time for yourself. You only have one shot at this life.