The coming Fourth of July weekend traditionally kicks off summer vacation season for most of us. The weather's nice, the kids are out of school and the NHL and NBA playoffs are over as baseball pitching scandals are heating up.
Yet sadly, according to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), almost 70 percent of our vacations this year will last less than three nights away. In fact, the average American vacation is now just a paltry 4.3 days long!
How can you have a vacation in 4.3 days? Just catching a flight takes that long nowadays! It seems abundantly clear to many of us now that we Americans unfortunately suffer from a severe case of Vacation Deficit Disorder!
As a people, you could say we're vacation-starved. This reality was hammered home in a recent New York Times article, which gloomily reported that just 14 percent of all our vacations would last seven nights or more. Just 14 percent! Whatever happened to those two weeks off we all signed up for when we took our cushy high paying corporate gigs or joined the union?
Over the last decade we've shaved almost a day off our already too-short vacations. Yet ironically, one recent survey indicated that most of us would happily trade a day's salary for an extra day off. (If we could afford it -- but that's another issue!)
Recently, a group of slackers launched a self-styled "Work to Live" campaign that would mandate three weeks paid vacation a year for the average full-time worker, increasing to four weeks a year after being on the job for three years. Yeah right! They're talking European-style socialism here and that won't fly in this pro-family-values dominated Congress.
But hey, wait a minute: Didn't President Obama take the whole month of August off last year? And he had only been on the job a few years!
Seems our Calvinist Puritan-inspired work ethic, in pursuit of that growing more and more elusive American Dream, is getting the better of us. Long gone is that great American motto of getting away from it all.
We are driven to be productive at all costs. We're actually made to feel guilty when we even have the audacity to ask our bosses to take our hard-earned vacation time off. Not only have we blurred the lines between our workweek and weekends technologically, but we have invented the ultimate leisure age oxymoron, the working vacation!
Yippee, we're Number One again! Or are we?
The World Tourism Organization (WTO), a group of global do-gooder bureaucrats who track average paid vacation days for workers around the world, reports that:
Italians have the most days off! In fact, they average 42 days off a year -- that's eight weeks of paid vacation time! And look at them, what have they ever contributed to the world?
Well, of course beside Da Vinci, pasta, Ferraris, banks, Michelangelo, espresso, Venice and Chianti? Look where all that time off got them! Their biggest malefactor was Guglielmo Marconi who helped make our now instant global communications possible -- and thus enabling us Americans to work even more! Thanks Billy Bob; maybe it is the Italians' fault after all?
The Italians it seems learned long ago that all work and no play made Marco a dull boy, when fellow countryman and the father of occupational medicine, Bernardino Ramazzini, was the first to express in 1700 that: "Work can make you sick!" Maybe that's where we got our workers compensation idea from?
Next up on the WTO list are the French. But of course. They have a real nasty case of vacation addiction. It's so sad really, as anyone who has ever traveled to France in August knows, no one's home -- the entire nation is on vacation! On top of their short 35-hour workweek, they take an average 37 days off a year -- all paid! That's what I call the real Red Wine Paradox.
The French do indeed take their vacations awfully seriously. Take their idea of racing for example: We have the Indy 500, which takes about three hours to complete -- the average American daily commute time! -- and they have the Paris-Dakar Race and the Tour de France, that each take about a month to complete!
Then we have those ultimate freeloading loafers north of the border, the Canadians. They take twice as many days off as we do -- and it shows too. What are they known for except hockey, okay, and wonder bras, pacemakers, instant potatoes, snowmobiles, zippers, butter tarts and ginger ale? (They had me at wonder bras and zippers!)
The folks that make movies know a good thing when they see it too, we all know those flaky Hollywood-types love their time off too -- that must be why all those runaway production companies are heading north. It can't be the weather right?
Next on the list we have those seriously industrious Japanese worker bees. Even they take more time off than we Americans do! The Japanese even have a word for working yourself to death -- it is called karoshi -- so they take a lot of time off to ward off that occupational hazard. Don't believe me? Checkout the lines at Sea World, Disneyland or Beverly Hills any time of the year -- the Japanese are the only ones there. We're too busy working! They even invented the Walkman to help make their traveling easier; and, as we all know, they take more travel photos per capita than any other nation.
So, America is not Number One in all things and as much the leader of the free world that we think we once were. Indeed, the average German leaves Germany (and who can really blame them right!) on average twice a year. Twice a year they leave the country! Now that's international travel. Now compared to we Americans, where only about 20 percent of us actually even have a valid passport, and you see the difference.
But we are still Number One in our work obsession, and have the stats to prove it too.
We're still #1 in job-related illnesses and job turnover; #1 in calling the office while on vacation (75 percent of us do it!); #1 in actually doing work while taking R&R (54 percent of us do it); and #1 in using technology while on vacation -- that time saving stuff that turns us in to virtual electronic slaves while on a holiday (40 percent of us do it)! (Oh yea, and #1 in job-related stress illnesses too!)
My guess is that Corporate America will soon talk us into giving up the whole idea of vacation time altogether. "Heck, Bob, you already took Thanksgiving and Christmas off."
Sure we need to stay competitive in the fast-paced 24/7 global marketplace, but we do need a break. Literally. The typical American worker is now putting in an average of 500 more hours at work last year than they did in 1973. That's 50 more 10-hour days a year!
Maybe those Live to Work do-gooders have the right idea here? Indeed, a recent poll among human resource managers (the feared HR folks) seems to back them up too, with 66 percent of those managers believing that Americans should get more vacation time to help alleviate the dreaded burnout symptoms associated with overworking that all too many of us suffer from. And why would they chime in you ask?
It seems dying at work from too much work, impacts the corporate bottom-line and their shareholder because it cost too much money to replace and retrain replacement worker bees!
The great captains of U.S. industry back in 1920s knew that happier workers were more productive workers. That insight seems to have been lost in translation somewhere along the way.
So go ahead America, take the next 4.3 days off and recharge your batteries. And not just your cell phone batteries. You've earned it.
BTW, this is written tongue-in-cheek for all you folks who can't take a joke -- as sad as it is!
Follow William D. Chalmers on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@wmchalmers