Vacation may seem as American as apple pie, especially the places on offer that range from the Poconos, to Yosemite, to Yellowstone, to Florida’s beaches. But at the same time, most Americans score only 10 days of vacation time a year. And for about 25 percent of working Americans, they have no vacation days at all. In fact, America is one of the few industrialized countries that does not guarantee vacation days by law. Hotels.com is trying to change that with the Vacation Equality Project.
The statistics, indeed, are daunting. France, of course, stands out with workers entitled to 30 days under law. The number is the same for the United Arab Emirates (plus 60 days of paid sick leave!). Other European nations, including Germany and Italy, require 20 days under their respective employment laws. Even Japan, with its work culture notorious for long hours and commutes, requires that workers have at least 10 days of annual leave.
Hotels.com wants to bring the U.S. up to par. Along with a bevy of facts related to leave, and a direct-and-do-the-point YouTube video, the company makes an emotional case for why it believes paid vacation should be mandated by law. Visitors to the site are encouraged to visit the White House’s online petition and join a chorus of those who believe the 28 million Americans in the private sector who have zero vacation days should have them by law.
The Vacation Equality Project’s goal was to have 100,000 signatures by August 15. So far, however, the effort is flagging: The number hovers just over 13,000. So what’s going on?
One of the challenges could be “signature fatigue” (my inbox flows with about as many requests to sign a petition as pleas to support a new product on Kickstarter). And a large part of it could just be American work culture. While most of us on this side of the pond probably feel as if we work too many hours — and compared to many Europeans, we probably do—the average number of working hours is slightly below the OECD average. Our friends in South Korea, Chile and Greece tally the most annual working hours; even Canadians outpace us. Furthermore, for better or worse, many Americans are tied to their jobs. The reality on this side of the pond is that work is a big part of an individual American’s identity. Others are weighed down by under-water mortgages and in this improving but still challenged economy, just want a job. After all, how many of our peers do not go on vacation at all, or stay at home because they are forced to use their vacation time or otherwise lose it?
The case for mandated vacation is pretty strong. We need time off to decompress, spend time with loved ones, and relax at the beach or a cabin in the woods. But one shortcoming of the Vacation Equality Project is that no strong business case, or a case from human resources and employee engagement perspectives, comes out strong in this well intentioned, but weak, appeal. True, Hotels.com would benefit if such legislation is passed—but this is still a worthwhile cause. However, in an age where we are all urged to support a cause on social media, this outreach just does not stand out is getting lost in our inboxes. Finally, let’s not forget about a business community that is up in arms over even the suggestion of any sick leave legislation. A movement to make mandated vacation time a reality requires not only compassion, but should be backed up by reasons that resonate with workers and business owners.
Image credit: Leon Kaye