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Is the Ideal Vacation Even Possible for US Workers?

Topics: Current Events

Did you take a vacation this summer? Do you wish you could’ve taken more time off? As fall draws near, so do the feelings, for many, of slight remorse caused by a summer spent mostly indoors, most often at work.


(Photo Credit: Mamamusings/Flickr)

Most people agree that Americans don’t take enough vacation time. The truth is, a lot of workers would like to take more time off but don’t feel it’s possible or wise – the consequences will be too great, the work is too overwhelming, and so on.

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Now, new research from Terry Hartig of Uppsala University in Sweden has taken that vacation bar so many Americans are failing to reach and lifted it up a little further still. They’ve redefined the ideal vacation. Here’s what you need to know.

1. The ultimate vacation come from what is known as “collective restoration.”

Vacations are relaxing and good for you, but they also improve productivity and therefore, are also good for business. The difference between a regular vacation and collective restoration is that the latter happens when the entire office is off at the same time.

There are many benefits to vacationing this way. The first is that it actually forces everyone to take their time off since going to work isn’t an option. Also, it minimizes the consequences of that vacation, as nothing is missed during an absence.

“…re-entry is hard because you’re so out of sync with what’s going on around you,” says Kathy Simmons who directs the Work-Life Center at MIT. “In so many work environments, co-workers don’t ask where you’re going on vacation. They only want to know when you’re coming back. It would be a heck of a lot easier to take vacation if we didn’t have to do it alone.”

2. Collective restoration yields huge mental health and happiness benefits.

Hartig believes that an office that vacations at the same time will be better off than they would be if they’d vacationed at different times. To test his theory, he tracked anti-depressant prescriptions in Sweden from 1993 to 2005. He found that the more people took vacations at the same time, the more prescriptions dropped. He also added that Europeans – who take 20 to 30 days of paid vacation each year – live longer and spend less on healthcare than Americans. He also noted that retirees were less depressed during the summer months (when much of the nation is vacationing) further solidifying his idea that the benefits of collective restoration are “contagious,” impacting even the non-vacationer.

3. But, despite the benefits, this type of vacation seems out of reach for Americans.

The closest that Americans come to collective restoration, according to Hartig, are the two weeks around Christmas and New Years when a lot of the businesses around the country at least slow down. He feels that a national policy would be necessary in order to really make collective restoration a reality in the U.S., and that’s pretty tough to imagine. In order for something like this to ever happen, Americans would need to gain a better understanding of the benefits of vacation.

John de Graaf director of the Take Back Your Time organization, has been working on a campaign called the Vacation Equality Project aimed at encouraging congress toward a guaranteed minimum for vacation time. He remarked that it’s a tough sell here in the U.S. where vacation is viewed as “extraneous luxury” rather than beneficial to individuals and businesses.

“People don’t experience very much vacation in the United States, so they’re inclined not to understand its value,” he said. “In fact, people are in so much debt that, if given the choice of time or money, people will choose money….”

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