It’s Time to Take Back Your Vacation America!

Updated on April 13, 2020 Updated on April 13, 2020
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Last year the average American only took 77% of their vacation days, working nearly a week for free.  It’s time to take back your vacation to America!

How many paid vacation days do you get a year?  Ten?  That’s typical for a lot of people.  How many are you legally entitled to?  

Zero! In fact, America is the only industrialized country in the world where that is the case.  One in four Americans receives no paid vacation at all.  Let’s see how some other countries compare.

Argentina 14-35 days.

Australia 20-25 days.

Denmark 34 days.

France 25 days.

Japan 25-35 days.

Note the last one.  Japan, a country known for their workaholic culture, gets almost a month, in some cases a bit more.  What would you do with a month of paid vacation?  See your family more often?  Do some volunteer work in a developing country?  Maybe just lay around on the beach?

All of those things are more important than working until your brain and maybe your body is just ready to throw in the towel.  Working to the point of burn out is bad for you and actually bad for your employer too.

Who’s To Blame For This?

The earliest culprit is the 1938 Fair Labor Standard Act.  It federally mandated laws for things like maximum weekly work hours, over time, minimum wage, and child labor.  It did not address vacation time, leaving the matter to be negotiated between employer and employee.

Fear is another big reason Americans don’t take all of their vacation days.  At a time when companies were making massive layoffs and squeezing the job of four people out of two, people were afraid to be seen as lazy, or worse, expendable.  So even if you did have paid vacation, you were too afraid to use it.

Some employers will make up arbitrary rules about how you can use what vacation you do have.  Do you have ten days?

Well, you need to request off six months in advance and it has to be approved by your supervisor, your manager, your department head, and HR.  And you can’t take any time off between Date X and Date Y.  Also, no more than five days off in a row.  You can start to see why some of us don’t even bother.

We don’t take to the streets.  In 2009 when General Motors announced worldwide layoffs, 15,000 people demonstrated at the company’s German headquarters.

In America, where the majority of the layoffs took place, nothing.  Worker strikes and subsequent street demonstrations have a long history in Europe but we haven’t seen much of that in America for decades.

No Vacation Is Bad For Us

Chronic stress is responsible for all kinds of nasty health problems, heart disease, depression, weight gain (blame cortisol for that), and strokes.  You know what can help reduce stress, (aside from regular vacations)?

Spending time with family and friends.  Developing and fostering close relationships with people (who are not colleagues) reduces stress and increases happiness.

Only you don’t have time for that because you’re always working.  So your relationships with nearby family and friends are not as strong as they could be.  But what really suffers are long-distance relationships with friends and family who don’t live near to you.

Those of us who left our hometowns to move to the big city, need vacation time to travel to see those we love who live far away.  Every Christmas I meet my parents in New Orleans and it’s always my most relaxing vacation of the year.

It is also sometimes the only time in the year that I get to see them.  My 9-5 doesn’t offer paid vacation so I have to budget the trip extra carefully since I won’t be paid for the time off.

I would like to note that when I went on vacation for the first time as an LMM employee, that my boss Andrew offered to pay me to double my normal rate for any work I did while on vacation.  So not all bosses suck.

Just the act of travel to a different part of the world in itself is beneficial in too many ways to count.  It exposes you to new people, places, foods, ways of doing, living, and being.  It makes you see the world as a bigger place than you thought it to be.

It exposes the local residents to you too.  As Rick Steve’s says, “Travel is a force for peace.”  Merely by doing so, you make the world just a little bit better.  When is the last time you felt that way sitting behind your desk?

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No Vacation Is Bad For Your Employer

I know they don’t want to hear this, but it’s true.  Job stress, which could be at least partially mitigated by regular vacations, is responsible for some $344 billion a year in lost revenue due to absenteeism, lower productivity, and health issues.

Think about how much you get done just before and after a vacation.  What if only getting that much done every two years or once a year, you were that productive a few times a year?  You would be unstoppable!

Being out of the office gives you a fresh perspective.  Ever have kind of a niggling, little problem that you were able to solve after a good night’s sleep?  The same process occurs when faced with a bigger problem and a longer break.

A vacation gives your mind a break too.  Those problems that keep you awake nights don’t find a solution because your mind is constantly whirring away.  If you were afforded the time to quite your mind, the brain is an amazing thing that can solve complex problems.  But not if it’s always on.

What Can We Do?

Is it hopeless?  I don’t think so.  Very few things in life are a total lost cause.  The economy is better now than it has been since the 2008 meltdown.  That means people are feeling a little bolder when it comes to things like asking for raises and taking time off. is a broad coalition of people working to help Americans take back their vacation. Get involved with them.

There is one Congress member who has tried twice to introduce a bill that would legislate at least one paid week off for employees, Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Florida.  While it’s a bit hard to take seriously a man who has children named Skye, Sage, Star, Stone, and Storm, at least he’s trying.  He has so far been unsuccessful.

Keeping in mind that Grayson has been unsuccessful, also keep this in mind.  Congress got 239 days off in 2013.  Their entire month of August vacation is the only federally mandated vacation law on the books.

I’m not advocating not working hard.  I work hard, you work hard.  Paid vacation time should be considered a human right, not a “perk” that an employer can give, take, or withhold at will.  We’re not robots or chattel and we don’t deserve to be treated as such.  Take back your vacation to America!


Photo Credit:

Candice Elliott - Senior Editor
Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.
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