The cynical will no doubt hear about Hotels.com’s Vacation Equality Project and assume it’s one giant marketing opportunity: of course a company in the travel industry would want more people to take vacations!
However, if you talk to Taylor Cole, Director of Public Relations for Hotels.com in North America, you’ll find that the company is in it for more than profit. “There are a number of strong benefits tied to vacation time,” Cole says.
The problem, though, is that America is the only advanced economy that doesn’t legally guarantee paid vacation time for workers. Whereas most similarly industrialized nations guarantee 20 days or more, America guarantees absolutely zero. The second lowest is Japan, which offers 10 — a rather large difference. The result is that 28 million people — 23 percent of the American population – do not receive any paid vacation or holiday time.
What’s the Big Deal?
Perhaps readers are wondering why it matters. Why is vacation time so important that the Vacation Equality Project is sending more than 17,000 postcards to members of the House of Representative, urging them to create and enact legislation which would guarantee paid time off for all Americans?
Remember those benefits Cole mentioned above? It’s more than just baseless conjecture or vague allusions to health. Vacation time is good for the American economy, good for employee health, and good for business in general.
“Vacation time boosts the economy,” Cole says. “Just one extra day of earned leave for working Americans brings $73 billion annually into the American economy.”
Similarly, “the lack of vacation can be hazardous to your health,” Cole says. Vacations can reduce stress, which decreases risk of heart disease. According to the New York Times, one study found that “women who took a vacation once every six years or less are almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took at least two vacations a year.” Another study found that men “who failed to take annual vacations had a 21 percent higher risk of death from all causes and were 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack.”
“Many of us know that job-related stress contributes to absenteeism and loss of productivity,” Cole says. “It costs businesses money when we don’t take vacation time.” Just how much does it cost? According to the Paid Vacation Act of 2009 — which was not enacted — “job-related stress costs business $344 billion a year in absenteeism, lost productivity, and health costs.”
In short, the American economy is losing out on billions of dollars annually because American workers don’t get paid vacation time — not to mention the fact that no guaranteed vacation time is terrible for the heart.
What the Vacation Equality Project is Doing About This
“We’ve found that change doesn’t happen overnight,” Cole says. “It’s a long haul to get this legislation in place. It’s going to take some time.”
That being said, Cole feels the Vacation Equality Project is making “good strides toward building awareness” about the issue in America. The project started a petition on WhiteHouse.gov, which garnered thousands of signatures — leading to the aforementioned 17,000+ postcards. Similarly, the project’s short film on the subject has attracted hundreds of thousands of views.
The Vacation Equality Project has also partnered with Take Back Your Time, which describes itself as “non-partisan coalition to challenge the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health, our relationships, our communities, and our environment.” The organization, led by John De Graaf, has been “instrumental in working with legislators in the past on trying to get this implemented at the state level,” Cole says.
“We think that vacation equality is something that needs to be added to the national dialogue,” Cole says. Through raising awareness in the public eye, getting the attention of the House of Representatives, and partnering with other organizations, the Vacation Equality Project’s leaders believe they can help bring Americans the vacation time they deserve.
“I think there is a lot that could happen,” Cole says. “It may take time, and it may be a state-by-state measure,” but Cole is optimistic.
What Can You Do?
Cole says that those who support vacation equality and want to see legally guaranteed vacation time in America can do plenty to help and support the Vacation Equality Project. “They can still visit vacationequalityproject.com” to learn about the issue, she says. “Also, I encourage organizations to go to Take Back Your Time’s website, because [John De Graaf] is working at the state level and seeing that legislation is raised to the docket for the spring 2015 legislative session.”
And if you’re an employer? You might want to think about the vacation opportunities you’re giving your employees.