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Ann Brenoff Headshot

Vacation Time: The Policy Baby Boomers Failed To Change

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The good people of Switzerland, being the stoic time-watchers that they are, just rejected a measure to extend their annual vacations from four to six weeks --which would have matched their time off to that of the French, Germans, Italians and Russians.

They did so for the good of their country's economy, believing that the strain of giving workers another two weeks of paid time off would bring companies to their knees. Puh-lease, spare us the violin. I suspect that most companies in Switzerland do precisely what companies in the U.S. do when they have an employee out sick or on vacation: They just tell the remaining non-vacationing workers to suck it up. Vacations don't cost companies anything more because they don't replace the missing worker. And allowing a worker to take a vacation is probably the least-expensive form of compensation a company can provide, with the exception of letting workers telecommute -- an act that allows the worker to save money on commuting and wardrobe, and occasionally sneak in a load of laundry.

Sure, a few customers might be left on hold a few minutes longer; but since when did putting a customer on hold ever bother a company? And the already over-stressed co-worker who they'll pile more work on? He'll undoubtedly just suck it up in silence, knowing that with unemployment still high, the line to replace him runs around the block.

One of the baby boomer generation's greatest failures was to not make an issue out of our country's puny vacation policies. Ending a war, leading the civil rights movement, defending the right for women to earn equal pay --I'm not saying those weren't noble pursuits. But here we are now in our 50s and 60s and having worked at jobs for 30 or 40 years (assuming we didn't lose them in the recession) and those at the top of the seniority heap are still juggling their measly two or three weeks off a year, hoping to stretch them into a real vacation -- one that goes beyond attending a kid's graduation and being at the hospital when Mom has surgery.

Of course, the unfortunate reality is that we aren't even taking the days we get. Older workers, perhaps fearful of being perceived as anything less than indispensable, barely use the vacation time we are given. And when we do, we travel with our laptops and smartphones "just to check in." As we reported here a few months ago, a study by the discount travel website Hotwire.com found that nearly 30 percent of workers age 55 and older have between five and 10 vacation days left over at the end of each year. Only 25 percent of them had used up all their vacation time by year's end. Many companies now have a "use it or lose it" policy and in some cases, businesses have shut their doors a few days a month in cost-savings measures, requiring employees to use their vacation time on those days if they want to get paid.

As for the Swiss, the same vote also established a limit on the number of homes in resort communities that could be sold as second homes. Voters capped it at no more than 20 percent of each community's housing may be used as vacation homes, a measure that will no doubt rise the ire of those foreign tourists who come from countries with more vacation time.

To inspire you to take a break, here's a look at the top ten value destinations ranked for their "low rates, discounts, affordable entertainment, and overall appeal," according to Hotwire.

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10 Great-Value Destinations Across the U.S.
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