Unlimitedly Limited

So, I'm talking to my friend the other day who works in consulting in New York City. We are swapping stories about work trips and taking time off, and quitting forever to live in the forest–the typical desk daydreams–and she casually mentions that she gets unlimited paid time off. Apparently this is a thing these days but, being that I am inexperienced and believed we were all given the severely disappointing 2 weeks to try and feel like human beings, my mouth dropped. UNLIMITED PTO? That is the dream!! Is she somehow working in Switzerland? Is she just that coveted at 23 years old, fresh out of college? (no offense, Shando, you're super smart and amazing, but no one is that special).

I was floored. The first waves of jealousy flooded in as it seemed our equal planes had started to rift, until my friend said this:

"But I think a lot of companies are starting to do this because people actually end up taking fewer days." 

.    .    . [pause for confusion turned realization turned fury].   .   .

What.    .    . I'm sorry, WHAT? Fewer days. Wow.

Here is where I sort of lost it and ranted via a really long text message that ran about 5 scrolls on the average smartphone. I have reformulated said text into a presentable argument for our nation's desperate need to chill out here:

This is the world I am living in–the american idea of success coming from really hard work and nothing else. On top of that, I live in New York, the hardest working city in America  that puts in an average of 6 more hours of work per week than the rest of the country. That average includes part time workers in the evaluation, which means that even after considering the people who only work 25 hours or less per week, the average is still 6 hours higher than the national average and recommendation. That means that there are a hell of a lot of New Yorkers working way more than 49 hours per week. And it's not just New York; San Francisco,  Washington D.C. and Houston are among the most worked cities in America as well. This glorification of dogged effort is so engrained into our society, that even when we are given the opportunity to take unlimited paid vacation days, we don't do it. Why is that?

I have spoken to a range of individuals on the subject and have come away with two primary reasons.

  1. Many people simply have too much to do to take off that extra time they could take. It isn't always a choice to work hard. Sometimes you just have to. 
  2. People are terrified that taking too many days looks bad on their assessments, especially when compared to the coworkers who stay until 10 and work ever other weekend. You could be viewed as lazy, unmotivated, or uninvested in the company, which could be the deciding factor of your termination if it comes down to you and another party. That is so messed up. 

America is the land of opportunity, or at least, it used to be. People come to our country to pursue their passions and build a better life. And it is important to work hard, I do, but it is also important to be free to catch your breath for a few days out of the year. It would be great if we didn't have to catch our breath at all, but every one of us is sprinting every day, on an average of 49 hours per week. And, to my knowledge, none of us are robots, which means we will have to catch our breath eventually. Jack Nicolson/Torrance said it best in The Shining: "All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy." Or in our case, makes us stressed and tired, and therefore, flippant, hostile, and intolerable–the psychological state of a hormonal teenager. Given today's diagnosed insanity, I think it is more important than ever before that America take one giant Xanax and siddown for a beat. 

Americans should be able to take the time that they are allotted without feeling guilty about it. We should be able to take time for ourselves to enjoy our lives in different ways. Yes, sure, we should enjoy our lives every day, but just in case you need a break, you should feel free to have it. America is the land of the free is it not? Maybe we need to work on that part of ourselves. America needs a spa day. Take your vacations and don't feel bad about it. 

Kiersten UteggComment