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The Monday Rant: It's About Time for ... More Time Off

Scott Vogel

Memo to all presidential candidates championing health care reform: What's something that improves health, strengthens family ties, increases worker productivity and, despite all these wonderful outcomes, is conspicuously missing from your platforms?

Mandating more vacation time for Americans.

Now, when you read that, I'll bet a lot of you rolled your eyes. For most of us, and indeed most of the presidential candidates, comprehensive health care is simply about giving Americans affordable access to doctors' visits and hospital stays. But to my mind, any health care plan that doesn't mandate more vacation time for Americans is not by any stretch of the imagination comprehensive.

At the Baltic Sea, a woman relaxes in a hammock at sunrise. (AP Photo/Heribert Proepper)

As everyone knows by now, citizens of most countries in the Western world have far more time off than Americans. (To refresh your memory, according to a 2007 report by the World Tourism Organization, Americans average 13 days of vacation time a year. Citizens of Japan and Korea, meanwhile, get 25 days, while Brazilians get 28 days, Germans 35 days and Italians an unbelievable 42 days.) But what you might not know is that studies consistently show that there's a strong correlation between more vacation time and, say, the lowered risk of a heart attack. People with frequent vacations are less stressed and anxious, are happier in their jobs and are absent from work less often. In other words, vacations are good for you.

We often hear that "every other country in the Western world" mandates comprehensive health care for its citizens. But every other country in the Western world also mandates vacation time, rather than leaving it up to an employer's discretion. The very idea that an employer should decide how much vacation time you get a year, even though it has a vested interest in giving you as little as possible, sounds suspiciously like an insurance company deciding how much health care you should get, even though it too has a vested interest in you giving you as little as possible.

What do you think? Shouldn't someone be speaking up for the vacation-less out there? And if we're going to reform everything else health-related, shouldn't we also be paying attention to this sort of preventive medicine?

By Scott Vogel |  March 3, 2008; 7:23 AM ET  | Category:  Monday Rants , Scott Vogel
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What we really need is mandatory maternity/paternity leave for government employees. It is crazy that the private sector is so much better and that the vast majority of governments - particularly in Europe - have a nice maternity leave policy.

Posted by: Washington DC | March 3, 2008 8:36 AM

More leave would be nice - partially for the family leave part, but mostly, just for the vacation part.

I remember running into an Australian in Calgary - he was on his way to Banff, I was going to Drumheller for a dinosaur dig. We both were sporting large backpacks and were headed for the Greyhound station, and fell into conversation (okay, he was gorgeous, too...)

He was going on a 4-week vacation in Banff & Jasper - and he still wasn't using up all his vacation. I had one week to dino dig, but there was no easy way to get where I was going, so I had to tack on two days to each end of the trip.

And even though I'd worked at my company for 4+ years and was allowed to roll over a few days each year, I was wondering if I was going to have enough to take more than a few days off at Christmas because of my trip.

The guy thought that was amazing, that people were forced to make their relaxation time so stressful by limiting the time frame, versus time that they knew they were going to have to spend with their families several months down the road. I couldn't agree with him more.

Thankfully, I own my own business now and my husband has been with his company so long he gets 30 days of vacation annually. Trips and family obligations just aren't a problem now.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | March 3, 2008 9:00 AM

The lack of vacation time that most American employers give would be the ONLY thing about living in America again that would be hard to adjust to! In the western European country where I live, I got more mandated paid vacation time in my first year of working than my American dad did in America at a company where he worked for over 20 years!

Posted by: American abroad | March 3, 2008 10:11 AM

Well, I have finally gotten to the point of haveing 3 weeks a year with my company. And that is great. But what is even better is that my company was bought by another company almost 2 years ago, and the new owners do not limit vacation time to a max of 40 hours at any one time. To be able to take 2 weeks ( or more) at one time is absolutely wonderful. I can actually think about going to Europe ( if the $ ever goes back up) or taking a 14 day cruise somewhere. Of course, you need the money to go away also. But since I am single, I only need worry about money for one.

Posted by: rja112 | March 3, 2008 10:19 AM

As a person who gets (and uses) 25 days of vacation and who once took a 9 month unpaid leave to travel, this is probably irrelevant to me.

But I'm not sure it would solve the real problem, which is people feeling pressured not to use the vacation time they get. I've read that a ridiculously high percentage of Americans don't use the vacation time they get. That's largely because they feel that they have too much to do, that they'll be forgotten or passed over if they aren't in the office 60 hours a week, etc.

There's a bigger cultural change needed than just mandating the time off.

Posted by: xenophilia | March 3, 2008 11:09 AM

My brother-in-law is an American working in Canada, and doesn't want to return to work here because he's gotten too used to his pile of vacation time! At my current company, you have to be here 8 years to get three weeks, and you don't get two weeks until you've been here a year. I don't get sick time, (well I do, but it's ridiculously complicated to use - you need to be out two days using your vacation or time without pay and you can use sick on day 3) so I use a bulk of my vacation time taking care of a sick kid, or when I'm sick myself.

Posted by: RiverCityRoller | March 3, 2008 11:44 AM

Switch jobs. Plenty of jobs let you take off as much time as you want. I bet you could negotiate with the Washington Post for eight weeks of vacation a year. You might have to accept a cut in pay or a hard-to-staff assignment, but I bet you could work it out. They have lots of writers on the travel page so as long as the work is getting done, shouldn't be a problem. In fact, many businesses will readily give you extra time off if you are willing to take it during slack periods. It's only places where the rules are inflexible -- like with government mandates -- that you can't negotiate extra time off. Here's some advice, when you start a new job and they say it's two weeks vacation after the first year, tell them that you already have a vacation scheduled sooner and generally like to take four weeks off. They may kick you out, but lots of businesses like employees who know how to negotiate and don't take the first offer. If the amount of vacation was etched in stone by the government, people who like to work all the time and earn a higher salary would be out of luck and people who like to negotiate for extra time off would also be out of luck.

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