Revisiting a familiar topic: Paid Time Off

I’m going to start today’s blog with a list.  You’ll recognize that these are countries around the world and that the United States is conspicuous in its absence.  Typically, we’re used to seeing “United States” at the top of lists, even alphabetical ones, because we tend to feel pretty entitled like that.  However, our absence from this list demonstrates one area where we are definitely not on the “entitled” end of the spectrum.

  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • UK

The citizens of the countries above, by law, receive a minimum of twenty days (and as much as thirty days) of paid vacation per year.  This is before paid holidays, sick time, maternity/paternity leave or other types of paid time off… this is solely vacation time and it’s required whether you are a top ranking executive or a waitress at a local restaurant.  The legal requirement for vacation time in the United States, of course, is notably zero.

It doesn’t have to be that way, of course.  Right now, there’s a petition on We The People (the federal government website that guarantees an official response if a petition hits a required number of digital “signatures” is reached) which asks the government to join the rest of the civilized world (or at least meet them halfway) by granting American workers a minimum of fifteen paid vacation days per year.  As you can see at the link above, the petition is set to surpass the 25,000 signature requirement, so we should expect a half-hearted and insignificant response soon, such as the response to ending the federal cannabis prohibition, the first petition to reach the response threshold.

However, do Americans really need this much paid time off?  After all, many American workers don’t take all their vacation time anyway due to fear of retaliation from bosses, frustrated coworkers asked to pick up the slack, or missed opportunities for promotion.  With so many people sticking it out and stepping up to the plate, is more paid time off even worth the discussion?

Stress and the American Worker

There have been a number of tragedies lately, from Connecticut to Alabama to Nevada and beyond, and there have been a number of pundits discussing everything from gun control and mental health on the left to rap music and video games and mental health on the right and… what’s that?  Both sides are talking about mental health?  Well, then… I love a good bipartisan talking point, so let’s talk about mental health.

It’s not hyperbole to say that working too hard definitely causes mental health to deteriorate, and it’s pretty obvious by this point that work-life balance for Americans is close to the bottom, ranked worse than the Czech Republic and Estonia.  All of this could be remedied, of course, by free basic mental health services.  You don’t need a link to be reminded of the state and availability of health care of any kind in the United States, but it’s worth additionally considering the stigma surrounding mental health issues, such a strong stigma that returning US troops often refuse to seek treatment for PTSD.

Seems pretty clear, then, doesn’t it?  Americans have terrible work-life balance on the global scale, poor work-life balance can lead to mental health issues, and mental health issues left untreated are very likely to become more serious.  Let’s work backward from the last statistic:

To prevent mental health concerns from going untreated, mental health care needs to be taken seriously and treated with the respect it deserves, not only from a standpoint of compassion, but from a standpoint of safety for both the mentally ill and their loved ones and neighbors.  Got it?  Good.

To help deal with mental health concerns, we can tackle major underlying causes of their development.  One of these causes is work-life balance.  Again, we’re working backward through the statistics above.  Work-life balance is lacking in the United States, specifically (though not exclusively) in the area of paid time off.  Still following?  Great!

How do we boost our standing in work-life balance?  We reach out to our elected representatives and demand a better life for American workers by granting the entire workforce a minimum of fifteen days of paid vacation per year, and penalize companies which discourage or block the usage of this benefit.  We can start with the WTP petition linked at the top of this article, but from there, we must reach out to our elected representatives, get a bill written, and get it on the floor for debate.  That’s how democracy works.

I’m considering reaching out to Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont, and asking him to look at this issue.  In the coming week, I will be writing another blog with more details on this legislation, backed up by the WTP petition, and I will be counting on all of you to help me reach out to Senator Sanders until he hears our voice and responds.  Let’s work together in the comments section below, via Twitter with the hashtag #PTO15, and on your favorite social networks.  If we can get Senator Sanders to introduce legislation, we’ve brought the conversation to D.C., and that’s where we have to start.

UPDATE:  I’m changing the proposed hashtag to #PTO15 due to mixed usage of the previous suggestion.  Details are still forthcoming and the original article has been updated.