It's O.K. to take a break from work

Filed under: Focus |

The wilderness of the Rockies and the sands of Maui beckon. Things like sleeping in and spending time with loved ones are probably long overdue. Everyone deserves some time off. From coaches and caregivers to CEOs and investment bankers, the employed in the United States could use a break every now and then.

Americans work hard, and some may argue that folks in the United States work harder than citizens of any other nation. There are no laws guaranteeing a minimum number of paid vacation days to employees in the United States. Many European workers go on holiday for three or more weeks at a time. And while most American employees enjoy two weeks or less per year, many of them are content.

According to the results of a survey developed by Office Team, 84 percent of American workers are pleased with the amount of paid vacation time they receive. The survey polled 573 employed men and women age 18 and older and was conducted by an independent research firm. Karen Policastro, branch manager of Office Team in Colorado Springs, said she is not at all surprised by the results.

Although it may be tempting to long for a European-style five-week vacation, the majority of workers in the United States would not opt for such long holidays, said Mike McArdle, director of labor for the Department of Labor in Colorado. “I think you’d find that most employees would find the five weeks, though they’d love to have it, they would find it excessive,” he said.

Fifty-nine percent of those polled said they were “very satisfied” with the amount of vacation time provided by their employers and 25 percent stated they were “somewhat satisfied.” While Policastro believes this is true for most working adults in the United States, finding the time to take a vacation presents a problem. “But do they really feel they’re able to use the time they’ve earned?” she asked. “Many times your overworked employees have the largest amount of unused paid days off.”

People often feel there is too much work to be done at the office and taking a vacation would burden their coworkers. Feelings of guilt creep in and more and more employees elect to surrender their dreams of sand and sun. And even when people do go on vacation they have occasionally get the urge to check in. “Having taken Friday (Nov. 26) off I called in here four times to see how things were going,” McArdle said.

Vacationer’s remorse is a sentiment employees should do without, though. Taking time off to relax and recharge does wonders for a person’s well-being, but “it also benefits the company when you take time off and you return when you’re refreshed,” McArdle said. “When you come back from your rest break you will be able to look at your work from a different perspective.”

When experiencing a hectic day at the office, no one wants to hear about a coworker’s detailed plans to cruise the Caribbean. To prevent extreme jealousy in the work place, Policastro advises people not to gloat about their vacations prior to leaving. “Keep a low profile,” she said. To lessen the impact of an employee absence, Policastro suggests updating outgoing voicemail and e-mail messages so people know who to contact, and clearing up messy desks. A clean desk will allow coworkers to find information without making a long distance call to Ibiza.

“The best strategy would be that you prepared yourself for going on vacation,” Policastro said. “What would be involved in that is planning far ahead. Think of project deadlines, what activities you’ll have on your plate. Be realistic about what you can accomplish before you leave.”

Not using accrued vacation days may haunt people down the road as more and more companies are adopting “use it or lose it policies.” One reason “use it or lose it” policies were established was to help companies avoid having to pay former employees for unused time off. “Some of them would like this huge pay out when they quit,” McArdle said. For example, if an employee saves up three months of vacation time and then quits or is fired from a company that does not have a “use it or lose it” policy in place, the employer is required to pay the former employee for the unused days.

According to Colorado Wage Law, if an employer provides paid vacation time, the employer must pay the employee “upon separation” of employment for all earned vacation pay according to terms and agreements between the employer and employee.

Open communication is always the best way to avoid confusion in the work place, and addressing issues regarding vacation policies will eliminate problems. McArdle suggests that employers inform their employees either in a handbook or at meetings about the company’s vacation policy. Also Give employees advanced warning when they are about to reach the cut off date for using vacation time. “They (employers) can’t come up on Dec. 31and tell their employees ‘you have three weeks vacation and you didn’t use them so we’re going to take that away,’ ” McArdle said.

No employer in the state of Colorado is required to provide any paid vacation time to any of its employees, though McArdle said most companies in Colorado do have established vacation policies. Employees would be wise to accept responsibility and plan in advance when taking vacation, but employers also have a certain amount of responsibility. “There’s an atmosphere that an employer should create at work that lets employees know that it is not just about work, but it’s about the employees too,” McArdle said.

- Stephanie.Cline@csbj.com