Memorial Day 2013: Do You Know How Many Americans Don't Get the Day Off?

For many Americans, Memorial Day signifies the unofficial start to summer. It's a most welcome four-day weekend after months of nothing. Millions of Americans leave their homes to drive to somewhere else, if only for a few days, in the hopes that they will remember what the hell they spend more than 40 hours a week working for. Still, there are millions more Americans who don't have Monday off, or any paid vacation at all, and that should worry you. 

1 in 4 U.S. workers have no paid vacation time and those workers are also more likely lack other benefits such as health care or sick leave. This is according to a report released by the Center for Economic Policy Research in May. Unlike many other rich nations, the U.S. government has no set rules for offering paid vacation time or paid holidays. We are actually the only advanced economy that does not guarantee workers any paid vacation time. As with most data, this information is better presented in graph form: 


Above: Paid vacation time of OECD Nations via CEPR.net


Above: Mandatory Minimums for Annual Leave, via CEPR.net


Above: How private sector employees measure up, via CEPR.net

The graphs show what most of us already know. Private sector employees, part-time employees, and those in low-wage jobs get the low end of the stick. For many Americans, their greatest source of stress is their job. A 2012 Gallup poll looked at the nature of the overworked American employee. What they found is that 40% of Americans consider their jobs "very or extremely stressful." 35% of employees surveyed said their job was interfering with their family or personal time. MotherJones looked at the state of the American worker back in 2011. Productivity has surged, but income and wages have remained stagnant. More workers are also expected to conduct work during non-work hours, that means responding to emails at all hours. We are producing more, working more, but not getting paid more in terms of time off, or actual wages. 

The first thing opponents of increased vacation time will say is that it will drive down productivity. That's just not true. In fact, you can offer employees unlimited vacation time and it will increase productivity, not decrease it. It’s not a hard concept to understand, people work when they can and don't when they are unable to. Michael Mahoney of GoHealthInsurance.com explains the rather simple concept; "When you consider when you can best take vacation as opposed to when you must, you end up able to take time off without affecting performance."

What this is really about is do you trust your employee to make the best decisions for themselves and the company, or do you feel the need to police them? Mahoney says, "If we trust employees to make the right decisions with the time they spend at work in pursuit of our aggressive goals, we can trust them to make responsible decisions about when they choose to take time off of work."

No matter how you look at it, providing vacation time just makes sense. This isn't about creating some sort of socialist sanctuary where no one has to work at all. It's about working smarter, more effectively and empowering employees to take charge of the way they spend their time at work.