Some 460 million unused vacation days: Are some of them yours?

We're working too hard.

That's the conclusion that is coming from some quarters. For instance, ABC News recently had a little conflict with a union, the Writers Guild, East, when the company said that three new writers wouldn't be compensated for checking their office-issued BlackBerries after working hours. It was eventually decided that writers and producers would be paid for using BlackBerries after hours but only under certain circumstances. What those circumstances are, I'm not sure.

As Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East, told Reuters, "Our folks are professionals. They're not going to start putting in overtime slips for 2.1 minutes. Our concern is we don't want this to grow into a major work commitment that people don't get paid for."

see the school principal because she wants to talk to us about our child's performance in math class. Work is interfacing with personal life, and personal life with work, more than ever. At least the anecdotal evidence I have shows that.

As for the statistics, especially with the Fourth of July weekend coming up, it's a good time to think about a new poll that the travel web site put out about a week ago, as reported in the Christian Science Monitor. I'm not sure how they came to this conclusion, but they estimate that 47 million employees will give up some vacation time in 2008. That adds up to 460 million unused days, according to Expedia, which averages to about three days per person.

More than half the people replying to a Yahoo! HotJobs survey relating to vacation said that they plan on skipping their vacation this year to save money.

And then I went looking on the web and found a nice little chart supplied by InfoPlease, showing where the United States' vacation days stack up compared to several other countries. I don't think it'll be a surprise to anyone reading this that Americans aren't given as many days off as our international counterparts -- that's been common knowledge for years -- but it is striking to see just what the disparity is, especially when you look at the average European's vacation days versus the average American's.

Italy: 42 days
France: 37 days
Germany: 35 days
Brazil: 34 days
United Kingdom: 28 days
Canada: 26 days
South Korea: 25 days
Japan: 25 days
United States: 13 days

Some people, like in the Christian Science Monitor article I read, say that they don't want to take more vacation days -- even if they're offered -- because they're afraid that it might reflect badly on them come their job performance review. Nobody wants that, especially in this economy. But my thinking is that if you're extremely effective at your job, and practically keeping your company running, shouldn't you want, say, a weekly reminder every year to the higher-ups that things run a lot smoother when you're not around? In other words, wouldn't that show that you're doing an incredible job and deserving of a vacation?

Well, one would hope.

Anyway, the lesson we should all take away from this is clear. If you're not working this Fourth of July weekend, go ahead and have fun. And if you feel like it, and especially if you're a workaholic and feel you deserve some extra time off, make it a four or five day weekend vacation. Judging from how the other nations are faring in their rest and relaxation, we have some catching up to do.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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