Saturday, February 13, 2016

Give Me a Break!

We are angry, overworked and have been making less in real earning power, year-in and year-out, for decades. Unless you are in the rarified air of those at the top of the ever-more-divisive income-inequality ladder. And in this era of lower pay and fewer jobs with real advancement/earning potential, unions are vaporizing in the private sector. Limited benefit/employment time contract work – the new gig economy – joins outsourcing as a constant job threat… and advances in automation and artificial intelligence are permanently replacing even those with the best educations and greatest skills. Workers are really looking over their shoulders, wondering who or what might be looking to replace them. Job security is no longer an expectation norm of American labor.
Most companies have vacation policies, but for those overwhelmed with work and worried about keeping their jobs, they know (or believe) that their employers will watch very carefully as to who actually is stupid enough to use that accrued time to relax. Even for those who avail themselves of the time off, they known darned well that they better be reachable by phone or digital communication to handle work they might otherwise miss. Their laptop follows them like an obsessive lapdog… beachside or wherever the rest of the family might be enjoying themselves. Their bosses will lie to them, tell them to take time off, but they know better. We even have a name for it: “the vacation stigma.”
“Americans love vacation. Almost every employee and manager consistently reports that they understand the importance of vacation to productivity, well-being, and personal relationships. Fully 96 percent of employees believe taking time off is important with a majority of workers (52%) and a near majority of managers (46%) characterizing time off as ‘extremely important.’
“Managers and HR leaders agree on the value of vacation, too. Eighty percent of managers said using vacation time is important to maintaining team energy levels and 67 percent believe it makes employees more productive. These results are echoed by HR managers who agree that if employees who are currently taking less vacation were to take more, they would be more engaged at work (67%) and more productive (72%).
“While Americans love the idea of vacation, taking a vacation is another matter. Over the past two years, multiple surveys have looked into how much time American employees receive and how much they use. Year-after-year, there is little change: four-in-ten American workers (41% on average) consistently fail to use all of their time off.” U.S. Travel Association’s Project: Time Off Report.
But if you are in a job where there are lots of folks ready to take your place… and given those ever-vigilant employer eyes looking for those willing to risk a vacation stigma… taking time off is clearly a bad career move, and the good old USA doesn’t have all those fancy European laws the enforce vacation benefits. “The problem starts with employers: nearly half of managers surveyed (46%) continue to stay connected to work while on vacation and 53% actually admit to setting a poor or bad example for taking vacations. About 80% of employees said they’d use more of their allotted vacation time if their bosses told them to do so, provided they don’t have to check-in with the office when they’re trying to escape it…
Americans’ vacation habits used to resemble those of many Europeans who are notable for taking the holidays they have been promised by employers. Until 16 years ago the average American who took time off each year took about 20 vacation days. The dot-com boom’s culmination in 2000 and the later rise of mobile technology, flexible work, and decreasing worker protections made it more difficult to leave work at the office and harder for employees to believe a vacation is possible, Project: Time Off said. Americans who do take time off took an average of 16 days of vacation as of 2014, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. This translates to nearly a full workweek of fewer vacation days used compared to the 1976 to 2000 period.” (a business of travel site).  
We’re angry, miserable, and feeling hopeless and helpless in the face of diabolical change. Asia, experiencing a momentary slowdown, is gearing up to take us down again. We’re not investing in research or infrastructure, education has become prohibitive, and those unfortunate enough not to have been born into a rich family but who vie for that educational lift, they then get to enjoy crushing student debt for decades with no offsetting guarantee of the job to pay it back. Fringe benefits are disappearing, and the thought of company-supported retirement falls as bankruptcy, mergers and acquisitions, kill businesses all the time.
An entire political party is running on a platform to enable businesses to provide fewer benefits, lower pay (resisting any thought of raising the minimum wage) and to be freer to hire and fire than ever before. They are against affordable healthcare for millions, regulations to ensure that toxicity is removed from both the workplace and the general environment, expanding federal maternity leave to include paid time off, minimum time off (vacation time) or much of anything else that will benefit the average worker. When they don’t like a policy, they simply repeat the words “job killer” with no further explanation. Strange how many Americans are good with that; they even think such policies will make everything better. They may also believe in the Easter Bunny.
We have become a nation of people, institutions and companies that don’t care about anything but themselves. We hate outsiders, politicians, people of different races or religious beliefs, we vote against emergency disaster relief aid for other Americans, and growl military threats at the outside world. We treat ourselves just as badly. Until we learn to care again, exactly who are we as a people? Who are we as a nation? And what have we become as a society? The vacation stigma is just one sign of our growing malaise and disgust with our once sacred icons. Look around you! Feel good about what you see and hear?!
I’m Peter Dekom, and it is really time for Americans to take the time to understand the reality of the situation without the vapid slogans that solve nothing… and raise their voices and place their votes accordingly.

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