Unused vacation days: Why workers take a pass

Unused vacation days: Why workers take a pass

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Dubbed the “no vacation nation,” the United States lags behind most other developed countries when it comes to vacation days. But Americans don’t seem to mind.
Most workers don’t use all their vacation days in the first place.

About 57% of working Americans had unused vacation time at the end of 2011, and most of them left an average of 11 days on the table – or nearly 70 percent of their allotted time off, according to a study performed by Harris Interactive for JetBlue.

Employers certainly aren’t complaining. Separate data from financial information company Sageworks shows profits-per-employee are at a 10-year high. Could workers cramming in more hours be a factor? Yes, says Libby Bierman, a Sageworks analyst.

“We don’t have exact information on why profits increased, but I think it’s safe to say it’s a combination of people spending more time at work and technological advancements,” she said.

As companies cut back on staff during the recession, they learned how to get by with a leaner workforce and rely more on technology.

Since then, employees who saw their workloads build up over those years feel they can’t afford to take time off.

Why I’m passing on vacation

One of the biggest reasons for forgoing vacation, according to a survey by Kelton Research, was workers felt they had too much work.

“I don’t really have a back-up for my job,” said Kyra Mancine, a catalog copywriter in Rochester, N.Y. “I worry that if I’m gone for an extended vacation, the work won’t get done and I’ll come back to a huge pile-up of projects. I hate coming back to hundreds of emails.”

A fifth of workers surveyed also said they couldn’t afford to travel.

“I can’t afford to do anything when I do take time off,” said Emily Harley, a marketing and media relations manager based in Helena, Ala. “It just wasn’t worth the trade-off to let work back up and cause myself stress, if the only thing I could do with time off was clean house!”

And about 9% of the survey respondents said they were afraid to take time off amid an unstable job market — not surprising when the unemployment rate is still above 8%.

Unlike most other developed countries, U.S. law doesn’t require companies to offer paid vacation time to their employees.

The United Kingdom for instance requires employers to give at least 28 vacation days. In Finland, France and Greece, the minimum is 25. In Germany and Japan, it’s 20.

14 Signs That Americans Are Ridiculously Overworked

14 Signs That Americans Are Ridiculously Overworked
By Ashley Lutz | May 16, 2012, 3:07 PM Business Insider

Since the recession and mass layoffs, Americans are working harder than ever to keep their jobs.

American worker productivity has increased 60 percent in the past 20 years. Wages have stagnated. That means workers are doing much more for less.

All the extra hours and responsibilities are leading to health consequences: both physical and psychological. Chronic illnesses and obesity are on the rise.

Here are some crazy facts that show the toll work is taking on Americans:

  1. 39 percent of people work more than a typical workweek (40 hours)
  2. The average American gets 90 minutes less sleep than they should, and the number of sleep disorders has skyrocketed in recent years
  3. Americans are literally working themselves to death — as job stress contributes to heart disease, hypertension, gastric problems, depression, exhaustion, and a variety of other ailments
  4. If current trends continue, Americans will be spending as much time at their jobs in 2100 as they did back in 1920, when regulations were put into place to protect workers
  5. 69 percent of employees report that work is a significant source of stress and 41 percent say they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday
  6. An astonishing 39 percent of employees feel rage at their coworkers — and 34 percent resent their coworkers for working less than they do
  7. 52 percent of U.S. workers report that they have changed jobs in hopes of finding a less stressful one
  8. 83 percent of employees report going to work sick because they’re afraid they’ll be punished for missing
  9. 36 percent of Americans don’t plan to use all of their vacation days
  10. The U.S. is one of few countries that doesn’t legally require workers to take time off. By contrast, countries like France and England require workers to take 30 days of vacation
  11. Half of employees are less productive at work as a result of stress, meaning that they crash and lose work hours or have difficulty concentrating
  12. And the hours are making people fat: 44 percent of workers have gained weight from their jobs
  13. Since the recession, 86 percent of executives say their company now expects more of their employees, and 59 percent of employees feel more pressure
  14. 24 percent of employees work six or more extra hours per week without pay. That figure doubles for management

Bravo to Sheryl Sandberg

Bravo to Sheryl Sandberg for leaving work at 5:30
By Pamela Stone, Special to CNN
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Mon April 16, 2012

(CNN) — NEWS FLASH: Working mom leaves office at 5:30 to spend time with kids.

Sadly, this is newsworthy, especially when the mom in question is Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook. By outing herself and urging others to follow her lead, Sandberg did us all a great service. Her announcement is an important step in normalizing and destigmatizing flexible work practices that should be prevailing practices, not exceptions.

Welcome as her announcement is, it also offers a cautionary tale. While she’s been leaving at 5:30 since her children were born, or about seven years, it’s only in the last two years, she says, that she’s been “brave enough to talk about it publicly.”

Pamela Stone

Despite the fact that the vast majority of women, especially professional women like Sandberg, combine careers and kids, the dirty little secret of today’s workplace is that it still takes bravery — and perhaps being the COO — to be able to talk openly about leaving at the end of the day.
It’s hard to imagine that Sandberg, a woman whose career has taken her from Harvard to Treasury to Google to second-in-command at Facebook, is easily cowed. She may not be every woman, but her fear of the consequences of being found out is shared by far too many working moms. Unfortunately, their fears appear to be well-grounded. Sandberg is the exception who proves the rule.

Why it’s OK to leave a tech job at 5 p.m.

Why it’s OK to leave a tech job at 5 p.m.
By Pete Cashmore, Special to CNN
updated 2:38 PM EDT, Mon April 16, 2012

Judged against powerful professional time norms, where long hours and constant availability are taken as proxies for commitment and competence (despite evidence to the contrary), Sandberg is what sociologists would call a “time deviant,” which is anyone who works other than full-time plus.

This includes leaving “early” or working part-time or job-sharing. Research shows that working flexibly is a career killer whatever your gender, but women, especially mothers, who are more likely to take advantage of flexible options, face a double penalty: one for working flexibly; another simply for being a mother. Both translate in to dead ends and reduced pay.

That’s for those who continue working, but often overlooked are the approximately 25% to 30% who don’t, instead interrupting and sometimes terminating their careers. While this group is popularly understood as having “opted out,” in my research I found that their “options” typically consisted of working all or nothing, and that their decisions to quit were reluctant and conflicted.

As a former management consultant told me about her employer: “What they really wanted you to do was bust your ass, and if there was anything that was going to get in the way of doing that, then you completely became chopped liver.”

For these women, most of whom never envisioned having to choose between careers and children, the costs of workplace inflexibility are up close and personal — diverted dreams and forgone earnings and independence. As a society, we bear the larger costs, when their workplace exits deprive us of much needed talent and drain the pipeline of future women leaders.

Sandberg’s clandestine “early” leave-taking was a private solution to a public problem. Like so many women, she found a way to make work work. Too often, the ability to work flexibly is a perk, an extra, something for high fliers that has to be earned, or something that’s on the books, but only approved in special cases. It’s not a best practice and certainly not a right.

Yet, as a report from the Council of Economic Advisers, commissioned for a 2010 White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility, shows, flexibility is a best practice. Among its many benefits are increased productivity, reduced turnover and absenteeism, and higher morale and company commitment. Many European countries know this and are well ahead of us in creating the flexible workplaces of the 21st century, while ours remain so last-century.

By being candid about her own experiences, Sandberg’s admission can help us recognize and begin to chip away at the penalties linked to flexibility, borne disproportionately by women. I’m part of a working group, led by lawyer/author Joan Williams at UC-Hastings School of Law’s Center for WorkLife Law, which seeks to do the same, by documenting this emerging new form of discrimination and identifying potential legal remedies.
Sandberg’s announcement reminds us, too, of how little we’re asking for when we ask for flexibility — things like getting home to have dinner with our families or take an ailing parent to the doctor. We know that workers of all kinds, ages and genders want more control over how and where they work so they can have a life, with or without family.

Yet until we lift the stigma and penalty attached to flexible work arrangements, we can anticipate that workers will be wary of taking advantage of them. Sheryl Sandberg has started an important conversation, one that encourages more of us to ask for flexibility and emboldens us to talk about it.

Work Smart Live More

In the spirit of Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, make the pledge to WORK SMART, LIVE MORE, and improve your quality of life!

Sheryl Sandberg made news on April 17, 2012 when she announced that she leaves work at 5:30 to spend more time with her children. While short of breaking news; this is an unusual practice in a corporate culture where long hours are generally expected.

Jeremy Rifkin, bestselling author and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends wrote, “We Americans live (and die) by the work ethic and the dictates of efficiency.”

A strong work ethic comes at the expense of our quality of life. How many of us don’t feel overburdened by long hours; wishing to express ourselves creatively, spend more time with family & friends, or engage in an activity that will help us feel rejuvenated?

“Sandberg did us all a great service,” says CNN. “Her announcement is an important step in normalizing and destigmatizing flexible work practices…” I believe now is the time to follow Sheryl’s lead and make room for what else matters. Read full CNN article

Think it’s impossible to leave work early?

Summarized from “Here’s How to Leave Work Earlier” by Phil Stott, Vault.com

  1. Set Expectations Early – When starting a new job, negotiate your daily hours as part of the process.
  2. Work when you’re at work – Eliminate time wasting and let your supervisors know when you meet goals and targets.
  3. Don’t Skirt the Issue – Acknowledge publicly that you leave on time, there’s no need to apologize for quitting at a reasonable hour.
  4. Be available, but don’t overcompensate – Check your email remotely and work from home sometimes without falling into the time-stamp trap. In other words don’t login too early or late to make a statement.

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