The ‘Vacation Penalty’ – Take Time Off at Your Peril Apparently

The ‘Vacation Penalty’ – Take Time Off at Your Peril Apparently

Apparently, there is now  a ‘vacation penalty’ in North American workplaces. Heading to the beach? Sure, go ahead, but your career might go nowhere. That gloomy scenario is according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, and it says a lot to me about the severity of the recession (the one that ended like five years ago) and its aftermath.

The whole subject of vacations is a fraught one.  There is a body of research that says it is a good idea to get away from your usual activities a couple of times a year and recharge, and honestly that would be common sense anyway.  Then there is the reality of working in the post-recession North American workplace.

Some workplaces, of course, are cool about people taking off. Others are not.  They are the ones where it is a hassle to get time off during the sought-after weeks in July and August, particularly around holiday weekends. They are the ones where taking extra days around the Christmas holidays (say Christmas is a Wednesday, and you want the time off until the weekend) a major hassle.  In my own, very biased, very small, survey, the worst situations are ones where the boss is a baby boomer (sorry, I’m stereotyping I know) who has grown up around the workaholic culture and wants to prove some kind of point, and by the way does not like taking holidays him or herself.

But even with the best-intentioned managers are these days caught up in the reality of what is a very competitive world. Nobody is particularly laid back these days, whether or not they take time off. Indeed, even for those who do take time away, the zen frequently vanishes within hours of being back at the office.

So let’s talk about the ‘vacation penalty’. According to the WSJ, there are a couple of studies that give some hard evidence that taking time off is a bad idea. According to a survey by Oxford Economics, 13 percent of managers are less likely to promote employees who take all their vacation time. And a German study, published in 2012 in the DIW Economic Bulletin, found that employees who took less than their full vacation time earned on average 2.8 percent more in the next year than employees who took all of their vacation.

All of this is interesting to me since it goes against another trend, that of wanting or at least getting used to more leisure. The ‘wanting’ comes from the millenials who have always been pretty adamant that they did not want to be workaholic losers like the boomers. The ‘getting used to’ comes from the boomers, who are retiring in droves (or will be over the next few years) and will be forced to do something besides work.  That latter part of things (boomer retirements) is still happening, but the millennial influence is not. It really is not that kind of workplace. Five years – half a decade – after the end of the world economic crisis, the vibe is still pretty much ‘shut up and work’.


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