Jack is a Dull Boy

Dear Reader,

When was your last vacation? This question became a topic of conversation at my last staff meeting as we were reminded to take our accumulated vacation time. Interestingly, it seems that at my work, many of us are neglecting to take vacations, which seems a bit odd.

Nearly all companies offer their employees some sort of paid time off (PTO) or unpaid vacation time, which may have certain tax consequences. In Massachusetts, employers who provide paid vacation to their employees must treat those payments like any other wages under the Massachusetts v. Morash case (1989). This means if an employee neglects to take vacation time, is essentially like an employer denying an employee proper compensation. This all sounds reasonable – employers offer vacation and employees take vacation. As plain and simple as this all is, it seems that many in my office at least are forgoing vacation time. Why is this?

Apparently, a lot of Americans are working too much. According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 73% of civilian workers have access to paid vacation, but approximately 50% of the American labor force does not use all of their vacation time. According to  a few websites some of the reasons Americans are not using their vacation time or taking time off for rest include:

  • Juggling multiple jobs – taking time off does not grant some people an ‘open’ schedule as they are still doing other work; and, even when time is taken off there is no real ‘rest’ involved
  • Insufficient funds to take a ‘proper’ vacation – e.g. those living from paycheck-to-paycheck may only have access to unpaid vacation, which they cannot afford to take
  • Other life obligations – people also use vacation time to go to appointments like the dentist, or to take care of a sick child
  • Work culture – some in ultra-competitive work environments may not want to leave the office for extended periods if they feel that it may hurt their chances for some promotion or opportunity
  • Stockpiling vacation days – some companies make it possible to accrue vacation days up until a certain limit. Under this system, some employees are deferring vacations just so they will have more time in the future.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. It is, of course, important to rest and recharge. Taking even short vacations can help reduce stress. Stress, as vague as this term is, can contribute to a host of ailments including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sleep disorders, mood disorders, and much other badness. Moreover, skipping out on your vacation can have harmful consequences for the economy believe it or not. In 2017, the Project Time Off study reported that Americans forfeited 212 million paid time off days, equivalent to $62.2 billion in lost benefits, which cost the economy $255 billion in missed opportunities (like spending on travel/ entertainment products and services). On a personal note, at my office, if an employee forfeits their vacation time, the company will incur a tax penalty, which is a double whammy, hurting both the employee and the employer.

I feel that in some industries in America, the culture of “work hard, play hard” has heinously mutated into “work hard, play less.” I can’t imagine that this mindset is universal, as I see that many of my European colleagues have out-of-office disclaimers that span a full month.

Everyone needs a proper rest now and again. And, if you can afford it, take it. Your vacation is not only good for yourself, but also your company and the economy – so don’t be selfish 😉

Wishing you rest and relaxation!



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