One day in August, Linda Bennett, our Administrative Director, said, “Janet, I want you to know that I’ll be on vacation in September for two and a half weeks.” I must admit my heart sank. I thought of Linda, with her diligence and devotion, her detailed knowledge about our members and procedures, as indispensable. I wondered how we would manage the phone, the mail, the rentals, the email announcements, the payroll… At the same time, I felt like applauding.
An Act of Courage
I had recently read that the U.S. is the only industrialized country that does not mandate paid vacation time for employees, some workers get no paid vacation at all. For those who do have that benefit, many don’t fully use it. In fact, the number of unused vacation days last year reached a 40-year high according to the data kept by hotels.com. Since when did taking a vacation require an act of courage? In our workaholic culture, some are afraid to take time off. They’re afraid they’ll be targeted and eventually let go. Others worry that so much work will pile up when they’re gone, they would rather not risk it. Several said they could not afford a vacation. Still others claim they love their work and don’t need a vacation. Achievement at work, mental health professionals warn us, is not all there is to living. Vacations with friends and family, escape from stress and routine, and time for yourself are restorative and considered important for an optimal life.
With work/life balance in mind, a vacation advocacy group called Take Back Your Time set up an equality petition. The petition was to lobby Congress to mandate that all employees get paid vacation time. (If you are self-employed, on a pension, an annuity, living from investments or Social Security, your situation is different.) It was reported in the Guardian that the petition failed to get the required 100,000 signatures. Working Americans, apparently, don’t care that much about vacations. But should we?
First, what do we actually mean by vacation? Let’s call it the refreshing effect of time away from a job or the stresses of daily life with the goal of having fun, expanding our world view or relaxing.
Sometimes we plan a trip, but it is not so relaxing. Car travel with a young child strapped into a car seat for long hauls calls on parents to entertain their children. If your destination with your toddler involves a camping stove, not so relaxing. If you’re traveling with the dog or with moody teenagers, it may cramp your fun. Is your destination to stay with relatives? It could incur awkward moments. Although not necessarily as restorative, these journeys will still hold a special meaning and create lasting memories. Families bond over stories like, “Remember the time we went to see Aunt Tillie in Vermont and our Fido chewed up her new boots?”
Meanwhile, Linda Bennett took a kind of vacation that met the criteria of fun and relaxing. But first, she prepared careful instructions for the Society and then went off to France, bucking the trend of more than half of American workers. Good for her! As an Ethical Culture Society, we celebrate getting away from our daily stresses in order to bring out the best in us. We must go when we can, before poor health makes venturing out too difficult. We want to balance our daily lives with flights of fancy and travel and create crazy memories with our children, young and grown. As we advocate for paid time off in our own community, let’s also appeal to our lawmakers on behalf of the American workforce… with liberty and vacations for all.