Take Back Your Time’s first-ever Vacation Commitment Summit was held this past June in New York City. The event, made possible by our generous sponsor, Diamond Resorts International®, was a day packed with dynamic and knowledgeable presentations from a broad range of experts in various fields. We all shared one common theme: We Americans need more time off from our work life.
Speakers included Katie Denis and Gary Oster of the US Travel Association who warned companies of their extensive liabilities of unused vacation days. Morning keynoter Peter Shankman emphasized that the success of businesses depend on the enthusiasm of their employees and vacation builds enthusiasm for their work. Ken Matos of the Families and Work Institute noted that many low-income workers receive no paid vacation at all despite sometimes working more than 40 hours a week at multiple jobs.
Dr. Leigh Vinocur, the “Vacation Doctor”, laid out in detail the dangers to our health that come from being vacation deprived. Diamond Resorts CEO David Palmer described how the company is changing its entire culture to value and promote vacations for its employees, and GoDaddy’s Employee Benefits Director, Laurie Brednich, discussed how her company’s liberal vacation policies attract Millennials to their workforce.
At lunch, Susan Kunreuther, VP for Total Rewards for MasterCard, let us in on a secret—MasterCard’s wonderful ads with children asking for “one more day of vacation,” led the company to examine its own vacation policies and begin a campaign to get their employees to take all their days. Take Back Your Time board members Joe Robinson, Camille Hoheb and Danna Quinn also spoke and Jerry Stone of Trivergance, LLC finished on an important note, arguing that it’s not selfish to take a vacation, it’s selfish not to, because you are depriving friends and family of quality time with you.
A wonderful slide show made a clear point: vacations come in lots of forms, from expensive resorts and tropical beaches to camping out. Vacations can be active, like a raft trip down a whitewater stream, or just relaxing. The important thing is that we all need downtime.
As a youngster, my family’s “vacations” were limited to visiting my maternal grandparents in rural Appalachia---as rustic and hardscrabble a setting you can imagine, but still extremely exciting to every member of our family, if for no other reason than the absolutely awesome train ride from our home in the NYC area!
The Vacation Commitment Summit underscored all of this: A vacation is what you want it to be. But unless our employers provide it and we take it, there’s nothing to contemplate, nothing to choose from, nothing to decide upon.
And so, before, during and after the formal presentations, much of the discussion among the attendees---more than a hundred people from a broad spectrum of occupations, personal interests, political beliefs, income levels and the like---was centered on HOW do we take action? What specific things can each of us do to change the status quo when it comes to vacation time? What can I, as one individual, realistically commit to that will make a difference?
No one can wave a magic wand and bring about the sweeping and substantial changes we’d all like to see in our nation regarding time away from work. That will take time and focused effort. But the summit underscored the role that all of us have to play in creating the type of vacation reality we’re all committed to.
The breakout groups held near the end of the day solicited substantive suggestions from the assembled and enthusiastic participants, including, but by no means limited to the following:
● Generationally-targeted campaigns: This is an issue that polls well with baby boomers, GenXers and Millennials alike. And each group can be appealed to using language and ideas that resonate accordingly.
● Pursuing alliances that work across political, social and regional lines. The surface differences between many groups aren’t relevant on this issue. There’s enough agreement on the issue of more vacation time so that any other differences can be disregarded in a pragmatic “let’s get it done together” fashion.
● Working for new vacation legislation---the kind that exists in virtually every country on the planet---on the federal, state and local level. Any progress, however modest, paves the way for all of us eventually.
● Encouraging internal change within organizations. Whether you work for private companies, non-profits, a public agency or a small business, your employer should begin to understand how THEY will benefit by becoming a leader in terms of vacation policy. For starters, granting more vacation to your workers becomes a way of attracting the best people, retaining the best people and doing so more cost-effectively than simply relying on higher salary or wages, wrongly assuming that those factors alone can assure you of landing and keeping the most competitive prospects.
● Bringing the entire family into this public dialogue. Kids have a special role to play here in helping to talk up this issue among their peers, and the families of their peers, within their schools, social clubs, athletic teams and much more.
And there was much more---more than we have space to report here and now. But the takeaway from the Summit is clear: Each of us has a role to play and there is no “one way” to bring about change: whether it’s writing a letter to your state legislators or local newspaper, speaking formally---or informally---at your next PTA or American Legion meeting, making a suggestion to the head of HR and/or your immediate supervisor at work, or something else entirely, each action taken is vital to our success.
We’ll only bring about this new Vacation Reality when each of us commits to doing something, however small, however infrequently, however modestly. Each of us can and will move this entire movement forward, but only if we all do our bit. It’s time---to commit to taking vacations and encouraging others. Let us know how you plan to commit!