Fast Company Blog: The Vacation Quandary Continues–Is a law the answer? I’m not so sure…

(In addition to the post from my Fast Company blog below, check out this week’s: Heartbreaking Reminder–There’s No Eldercare)

A new poll conducted for an organization called Take Back Your Time found that “69% of Americans support a paid vacation law with a large percentage favoring a law guaranteeing three weeks vacation or more.” The poll also found that “among Americans, 28% took no vacation time at all last year and half took a week or less…the median time off was 8.2 days.” There is no doubt that finding time to disconnect from work and to reenergize and reconnect with our loved ones is difficult in a 24/7, high-tech, global reality. A law might be a good, but I’m not sure it’s going to solve the problem.

I’ve blogged about the vacation challenge both from a personal perspective and an expert perspective on a number of occasions over the years. My postings usually coincide with my own vacation struggles (click here and here for links). And, as I read the findings of the new poll, I was reminded that the challenges related to vacation are actually three separate issues:

1) People don’t get paid vacation (according to 2006 Bureau of Labor Statistics, that represented about 25% of workers)

2) People don’t take the vacation they have (according to a 2006 Steelcase study 61% of employees took their allocated vacation)

3) People take vacation, but work while they are on it (in 2006, 55% of men and 43% of women took work on vacation)

The paid vacation law proposed by Take Back Your Time (, would definitely help the 25% of workers who don’t have paid vacation. But what about the other two groups? How is a law going to help the people who don’t take the vacation allocated to them, or the people who work on their vacations?

I see these scenarios played out all of the time inside companies. You have two people, doing the same job, for the same manager. One of them seems to have no trouble taking all of his or her vacation, and the other person hasn’t had a vacation in two years. How is a law going to change that? As a senior executive once said to me, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I’m not sure what else we can do expect schedule a vacation for them.” Unfortunately, if you wait for a “good” time to take vacation, it never seems to come. You just have to schedule it, and too many of us don’t (For more on this, see my “vacation quandary” post from August 31, 2006).

Then there are the people like me who struggle not to work during vacation. Once again, as my vacation approaches, I’m consciously vowing to limit the amount of work I am going to do. The fact that we are traveling to a pretty remote island location that has “spotty” email and mobile reception may help my cause. But in the end, will I bring work-related reading to “catch-up on” or finally pick up the novel that’s been gathering dust on my nightstand? Unfortunately, a law won’t help me choose the novel. Only I can make that decision.

Don’t get me wrong, I think a paid vacation law would be a great start. But I reach the same conclusion each year I revisit the vacation quandary. In many cases, we are our own worst enemy. Even with a law, we will still have to figure out how to take the vacation we are allocated. And, when we are on that vacation, it’s up to us to resist the urge to work.

I’ll let you know how I manage my vacation when I return, but I’d like to hear from you. How to you deal with the vacation quandary? Any tips or strategies you’d like to share?

2 thoughts on “Fast Company Blog: The Vacation Quandary Continues–Is a law the answer? I’m not so sure…

  1. We know all too well that if we were to pass on tomorrow or in an hour, someone will be picking up right where we left off. When it’s time for vacation, I remind myself of that. Doing this gives me the discipline to enjoy my time with my family and forget all about what’s behind me that won’t go with me…as non-expendable we are not.


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