Working for vacation

Marketplace Staff Sep 1, 2006

Working for vacation

Marketplace Staff Sep 1, 2006


TESS VIGELAND: Summer’s not technically over for another few weeks, but we all know Labor Day’s pretty much the end of fun in the sun. Did you manage to squeeze in a proper vacation? I didn’t, and I’ll admit I’m feeling it. Only 40 percent of people surveyed by the Conference Board said they planned an excursion this summer. That is the lowest figure in 28 years. Maybe it’s ’cause gas is so expensive. Maybe it’s ’cause fewer companies offer paid vacation time these days. Marketplace’s Amy Scott looked into some of the creative ways people eke out a little extra time off.

AMY SCOTT: Need a day off? Nothing a little cayenne pepper can’t fix.

Sniff…sniff. There. Don’t I sound sick? Oh…it hurts.

Okay, so maybe there are less painful ways to take a break. But the job site Career says 43-percent of the workers it surveyed feigned illness at least once last year in exchange for a day to relax or run errands.

Work-life consultant Joe Robinson has a pretty good idea why.

JOE ROBINSON: In this country, unlike other industrialized nations, there’s no minimum paid leave law. So an employer is not obligated to give anybody any time. So I think in this climate of ever-downsizing and leaning and meaning companies, we’re seeing vacations being shoved out the door.

But American workers are a resourceful bunch. A survey of the food court at New York’s Grand Central Station revealed some interesting tactics.

There’s the ‘work more, get more time off’ approach.

MARY: I’m a speech therapist. Mostly what I do is volunteer to work a summer school program. And the more hours I work, the more my vacation time accrues, and then I can take almost a month off at the end of the summer.

Then there’s the classic ‘mental health day.’

SUMMER: Mental fatigue…I think that qualifies.

Or there’s the approach Jennifer tried at a former job. You’ll understand why she didn’t give her last name in a moment.

JENNIFER: We got one-week vacation, no sick-time. And it was an hourly wage job. But we did get bereavement time. So I told them my husband’s grandmother died, which she did! Just 30 or 40 years before that.

Such unplanned absences cost employers an average $660 per worker per year. That’s according to human resources company CCH.

Heidi Henson is a workplace analyst with the company. She says employers are battling an “entitlement mentality” among workers.

HEIDI HENSON: In 2005 we found that 14 percent of employees used unscheduled absences because of this entitlement mentality. Basically we believe it’s years of lean staffing having intensified workloads, and employees pushing back and feeling that they deserve more time off.

Trouble is, a stolen day here or there doesn’t really work. Even if the guilt doesn’t spoil it for you, vacation advocate Joe Robinson says a day off isn’t enough to recharge.

ROBINSON: Studies show that vacations can cure the last stage of chronic stress, burnout. But it takes two weeks for that process to occur.

Of course, most of us have to make that two weeks last a whole year. Robinson says there are legitimate ways to get more vacation time. Next time you take a new job, bargain for more paid leave from the get-go. If you have to, ask for a week off unpaid. Or, just play this for your boss.

ROBINSON: The lesson from companies who do offer more vacation time is just incontrovertible. A company in Salem, Oregon that has three and a half weeks off for its employees, since the owner jumped up to this longer vacation schedule, the company has doubled its profits.

I hope my boss is listening. Now if you do manage to negotiate that extra week off, will you do us all a favor and use it?

A study by the travel site Expedia found that as many as 1 in 3 workers won’t use all their vacation time this year. Um, can I have it?

In New York, I’m Amy Scott (cough-cough) for Marketplace Money.

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