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In 2013, Americans took less vacation time than they have in the past four decades. This was a significant low point because the American work force forfeited 169 million days off of paid time. Essentially, they gave their employers free labor, according to a study conducted by Oxford Economics. Americans have become “work martyrs,” now taking an average 16 vacation days a year as opposed to the 20.3 days we took off in 2000. The question is, what prompted this downward turn? And how do we fix it?

The American Work Martyr

One reason people are putting their paid leave on the back burner is because when the economy got tough, people were afraid to take their vacation days and appear to be less-than dedicated workers. This trend is called “defensive overworking,” which is when a person chooses to skip vacations and work longer hours in an attempt to prevent themselves from being a victim of down-sizing. However, there is no proof that forgoing your vacations prevents you from being laid off which means millions of Americans are overworking themselves to no end.

Other people find it difficult to find time for their vacation days after their companies made lay-offs because they acquired their former coworker’s work load in addition to their own. Four out of ten American workers were prevented from taking their time off because of their workload, even when they had support to do so from their manager. With the same amount of work expected from a smaller work force, most people may feel too overwhelmed to consider taking time off if it means coming back to a mountainous work pile.

Of course, there are a few people who simply don’t want to take their vacations. For people who are not only work-driven but derive a lot of their personal identity from their career, taking a break might not be something they look forward to.

Time to Recharge Your Batteries

Luckily, the future is not bleak. Although we are at a new low for vacation days, companies are doing their best to change that. Some companies have instituted policies to prevent “rollover vacation days” from year to year, which forces their employees to use up their allotted time off by the end of the year. A few companies even award bonuses to employees who use up their paid leave. Other places like Expedia and Netflix are now asking their employees to simply communicate with their bosses and take whatever time off they think they need. Our country is a study-crazed AP student whose mother is begging them to take a break and go to the Homecoming game for a couple of hours. This seems to be exactly what the American workforce needs: bosses who force them to take their vacations.

These companies may be exceptionally kind, or maybe they’ve read the research that clearly states how time off can rejuvenate the work force. Researcher Mark Rosekind found that when workers come back from a vacation refreshed, their work performance can increase 80%. Even their reaction times are improved up to 40%. It’s not difficult to observe how taking time off increases workplace morale, productivity, and benefits your health (which means less sick days!). Taking time off for yourself is like recharging your batteries – it brings you back to the top of your game.

If workers took advantage of their time off, it would also benefit the economy. Business sales and tax revenue would benefit in billions as money went to various jobs in the travel industry, from transportation to retail. Even if employees took just one extra paid day off annually, it would lead to a $73 billion output for the US economy in addition to their own personal gain. The American work ethic is definitely strong, we just need a better balance between work and play.

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