Vacation Trends in the Workplace

We all know how important it is to take time off from work now and again. Yet Canadians forego 32 million vacation days a year—and it’s not because we get so many we don’t know what to do with them. Canada is one of the most stingy vacation providers in the developed world. Full-time workers here average just 12 days vacation annually, according to Statistics Canada.

The Cost of No R&R

Overburdened employees’ lack of relaxation time takes its toll. Workers become physically ill and depressed, notes the National Work-Life Conflict Study of 33,000 Canadians in 2001. The study says work overload accounts for $5.92 billion yearly in direct health care costs and $3 billion lost to absenteeism.

Even when we do manage to tear ourselves away from work, “the trend is for people to take work with them,” notes Linda Duxbury, co-author of the study, a sweeping survey of nearly 32,000 Canadians. “It’s the time away—without technological links such as email or the Blackberry—that matters. You have to not only be physically away, but virtually away, too.”

Defining Your Benefits

Young people entering the workforce have learned from their burned-out parents that vacations are important. They don’t want to become office drones who relinquish nights, weekends and vacations to better serve the company. And, unlike the baby boomers who preceded them, they are scarce enough to command concessions and flexibility, she says.

Duxbury, who is also a Carlton University business professor, discovered that young people are driving a new corporate trend called “cafeteria” benefits. “Younger people want more vacation time, but if they get it, people with longer tenure would be ticked off.”

The solution? The company gives each employee a sum of money—say $8,000—and presents a list of benefits such as a dental plan, drug plan, vacation time, etc.—each with a pricetag. Employees select from the list, up to the $8,000.

Another increasingly popular tactic—pioneered by employees—is “compressed” vacations: taking one day a week off for the entire summer, for instance, or three-day weekends, says Nora Spinks of Work-Life Harmony Enterprises of Toronto. Some companies offer days off in lieu of a raise or promotion.

The Downside

Other trends aren’t so rosy. Some companies insist that workers “use it or lose it”: Take your vacation days or watch them disappear at the close of the fiscal or calendar year. This, along with employees feeling pressured to work to the max, undoubtedly contributes to those 32 million unused vacation days. 

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