Saturday, June 16, 2012

American workers too scared of lay-offs to take vacation

The Japanese have coined a word for what we are seeing in the American workplace -

''Karoshi" which means (Work to Death)''

American workers are now so afraid to take time off from work due to the recession, they are not taking time they are fully entitled to and need.  No one can tell me that this isn't a sign of the continuing lack of real leadership in businesses and Washington.

People need time off - Studies prove that the best performing teams are those that get ample time off and have the ability to control their own schedules.....But we see that people are afraid that asking for time off will make them prime candidates for the next round of lay-offs.

This is NOT what we should be seeing in our country....it is time for a change as whatever has been going on for the last three and 1/2 years has only made this situation worse.

No time for vacation time?

Why the majority of workers can't -- or won't -- take time off, no matter

how secure their jobs are.
 By Joseph P. Kahn
 Boston Globe Staff / June 16, 2012 
 

To be gone, or not to be. That is the question.

With peak vacation season looming, it’s certainly a question Meagan O’Hara
and millions more like her have been asking themselves. Do I take all the
time off coming to me? Can I really afford to, financially or otherwise? Or
will I be returning to so much backlogged work that it’s actually less
stressful to stay in the office rather than head for the beach?

This spring, O’Hara, 26, director of business development for a Boston
office-relocation management firm, took the first full-week vacation of her
working life — a Caribbean cruise — but not without some wariness. She’s
held other jobs before — marketing assistant, executive assistant — that
guaranteed her time off. Getting away for an entire week? That did not
happen, she says, because her bosses might decide they could get along fine
without her.

“I’d take a Monday or Friday off, but not full weeks or multiple days,”
O’Hara says. “I kind of felt I wasn’t allowed to, even though the vacation
days were well deserved.”

For younger workers like herself, adds O’Hara, leaving vacation on the
table shows a willingness to do more than what’s expected. Fortunately, her
current employer values taking time off. “If it’s not openly encouraged,
though, you don’t take it,” she says.

According to a recent study by Harris Interactive, an Internet-based market
research firm, 57 percent of Americans ended 2011 with unused vacation
time, failing to take, on average, 11 of their allotted days off — or 70
percent of what they’d rightfully earned. Other national surveys have
calculated that as many as 66 percent of us keep working when we could be
kicking back somewhere, leaving unused a total of 459 million vacation
days.

This mounting pile of bypassed perks has led to the United States being
dubbed “no vacation nation” by Europeans and others who take long,
leisurely vacations. Also creeping into the vernacular: “naycationers”
(those who take little or no time off), “breakations” (lasting only three
to four days), and, of course, “staycations” (time off taken close to home
— or even at home).

“Anecdotally at least, you hear vacation deprivation is getting worse,”
says John de Graaf, executive director of the Seattle-based organization
Take Back Your Time. He co-wrote a 2009 bill mandating paid vacations for
most American workers. (Submitted to Congress, it went nowhere.)

Given studies showing links between working too much — and too long without
time away — and increased risk for health problems like heart disease and
depression, says de Graaf, “It’s really very silly, particularly when
vacations could be one way to reduce health-care costs.“ Yet job security,
or lack thereof, skews our priorities, he maintains.

“Fear is the primary motivator,” de Graaf says. “When the economy’s weak,
they think, ‘I’d better show I’m 110 percent committed to my job.’ And with
companies downsizing and giving people more to do, the stress of coming
back to hundreds of e-mails overwhelms the stress of staying at work.”

“Naycationers” also worry about being tethered to work via cellphone and
e-mail while away, or paying for an expensive vacation — goodbye Vineyard
summer rental! — during tight financial times, de Graaf says.

Sarah Nasnic and her boyfriend could go to Cape Cod for a week this summer,
she says, “but what if the economy tanks tomorrow?” Nasnic, 25, who works
in marketing for a Boston architectural firm, has two weeks vacation coming
this year. She may not use them, though, partly to save money and partly to
continue team-building with her new boss.

Previously, Nasnic worked for a smaller company where job responsibilities
also kept her from taking sustained time off. The result was a happy
surprise: $2,000 in unused-vacation pay when she left the firm. “At this
point in my life and career, I’m not taking any long or lavish vacations,”
Nasnic says.

Howard Goldman has tried to get away from the office more as his kids move
through their teenage years. And yet he rarely stays away for long,
although it has nothing to do with impressing the boss. Goldman is chief
executive of Humboldt Storage and Moving in Canton, a company with nearly
100 employees.

“I’ve never taken my full vacation time,” he acknowledges. “One of the
biggest issues for me is coming back to the enormous amount of e-mails that
pile up, because the work doesn’t stop while you’re away.”

Only once in 20 years has Goldman taken 10 consecutive days off (his wife
lobbied for two weeks) to travel overseas for his daughter’s dance
competition. “It’s hard for me to take even a week off,” he says, “even
though I have a great management team to handle things when I am gone.”

Paradoxically, notes Boston University sociologist Juliet Schor, the
pressure to stay working is felt both in boom times and bad ones. When
business is going well, employers tend to increase individual workloads,
hoping to keep the enterprise running smoothly. During downturns, employees
worry their jobs will grow more difficult, or even disappear. Decisions
about taking time off often hinge on assessing individual risks and
rewards.

“In the higher ranks (of companies), not taking vacation time is more about
not getting the job done,” says Schor. “Whereas at the bottom of the
market, employees can often cash out on unused vacation time when they
leave. For them, it becomes a financial strategy.”

Is there a price to pay for squandering vacation, even if it means more
money in one’s pocket? “Yes,” says Schor. “Common sense says the ability to
step away from the work is very important.”

Harvard Business School professor Leslie Purlow’s new book is titled
“Sleeping With Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24/7 Habit and Change the
Way You Work,” based on her work with The Boston Consulting Group, the
well-known professional service firm. Purlow focuses on what she calls “the
great impossibility” of taking “pure, guilt-free time off” at a company
like BCG, whose clients expect 24/7 access.

Since she began her study of BCG, the firm has organized itself into
hundreds of smaller teams that systematically plan their time away from
work, a process initially christened PTO, short for “predictable time off.”
At first, that meant one night a week without checking e-mail, text, or
phone messages. But it has grown to encompass planned vacation time, too.

“Even though it sounds counterintuitive, the very act of planning makes
them rethink what they do, what their priorities are,” says Purlow. Among
the benefits, she adds, are improved employee retention, better work-life
balance, and increased productivity, adding value to what the firm does for
clients.

BCG project manager Jon Swan agrees that “refreshed brains tend to be more
productive ones,” as he puts it. But a company culture must encourage such
thinking. One friend of his who works in banking was told not to take his
family on a cruise, says Swan. Why? Because in a work emergency, he’d be
stuck at sea and unable to fly home. Instead, his friend took his family to
a destination located near a major airport.

Swan went a different route last fall. After months of planning, he took
his family on a four-day, midweek trip to Disney World, an ongoing work
project notwithstanding. “I’d built the right coverage model,” he says, and
having that flexibility “became an important part of the project.”

Winthrop town manager James McKenna has no such flexibility, he says, which
is why he won’t use three of his four weeks vacation time this year. Again.
With hundreds of town employees working under him, that’s a luxury he
cannot afford.

Municipal governments have seen a lot of budget cuts in the last decade,”
says McKenna. “As a manager, you’re not as free with your time. There’s
virtually no backstop, like there is in the private sector.

“Vacation seems more of a luxury now,” McKenna says. “I’d like to spend
more time with my family, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com

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