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By Jack Ganssle

A Call For More Vacation

Published 8/22/2002

I bet you're not reading this. It's August, so surely you're deep into a well-deserved month off, the normal August shut-down that all of us get, with pay. That's just a chunk of our vacation time, though; we've still got another couple of weeks banked for the upcoming holidays.

Not.

Americans work too much. 50 weeks a year we slave away, driving through horrible traffic, dropping the kids off at school or day-care, braving another onslaught of traffic to the office. We're there at 8 AM, prepared to crank like maniacs till the bell rings 9 hours later. Lunch? Wolf a sandwich down at the desk. Breaks? Ha!

No wonder we drink so much coffee.

Did your honey send an email during the workday? Guiltily you quickly scan it, ready at any moment to hide the email reader behind a compiler window if the boss appears. Need to slip out to take care of pressing personal business? Better log it on the time card so those paragon of virtue accountants can dock that 34 minutes from your personal leave time. While the big bosses are negotiating 7 figure loan deals sans repayment clauses.

As exempt employees lucky developers even get to work plenty of unpaid overtime. What a country! The project is late because the boss arbitrarily cut the schedule in half, so now you're in trouble, your annual review is coming up, and the layoffs have started. Work harder! More hours!

A year shoots by. 50 weeks gone, we've probably putting in 2500 hours or more. Time to take a solid two weeks off to decompress and become vaguely human again.

"What!" the boss roars. "You want 2 weeks off all at once! What if something comes up? We can't allow that. Take a long weekend."

Even in the best of circumstances, two weeks is a paltry 10 work-days, equivalent to less than one day per month. It's easy and common to squander that just getting though the year. A day here or there to see the kids' plays, take care of the car repairs, and the like means we never get a solid block of vacation time. An awful lot of people call in with a false flu report, lie about mom's sudden demise, or otherwise convert sick leave into extended personal leave.

We're stress puppies, pushed too hard by work and life, with no margins for error or recovery. Crash is inevitable. Divorce, job dissatisfaction, disenfranchised families and latchkey kids are the norm. What are we doing? What sort of society are we building? When is there time for us?

France takes August off. Plus they get another couple of weeks of holiday time each year. That's pretty much the rule throughout a lot of Europe. Seems pretty enlightened to me. Some might say that reflects Europe's lack of innovation, but page through the ads in ESP. Nohau, IAR, and a host of other continental companies provide an awful lot of tools and support to the world.

Steven Covey tells us to put first things first. Yet it seems most of us try to squeeze in a life around the job.

Does this make sense?

 

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