I Heart Brits

Tue, July 24, 2007

Moms & Politics


PunditGirl attends a school with many international families, including quite a few Brits in her class alone.

I was discussing vacation plans with one of the British moms. We swapped stories — me excitedly explaining that the PunditMom family would be away for about ten days in August.

She was appalled. Why?

Because her family is leaving tomorrow for their holiday and won’t be back for a month.

A MONTH!

Plus, they’ve already had a week at the beach. Just time together as a family to hang out.

For her, that much time off in the summer with family is normal and expected, even for people who have high intensity jobs that are time-demanding during the rest of the year. That’s some serious downtime for reconnecting with the family and discovering true relaxation. Then, everyone is ready to plunge back into the routine of work and school with new attitudes and energy.

You just don’t get that when you’re only away for a week and a half.

It’s not that American families wouldn’t like to park the kids beachside or in a mountain cabin for a couple of fortnights. It’s just another example of how we haven’t yet figured out how to view people as more than money-making commodities. (Is that you out there Ebeneezer?).

To many businesses, there is no value in workers who are relaxed and rejuvenated. Just keep the cogs in the wheels moving. And it occurred to me that it’s the same story no matter what kind of time off employees want or need.

Just as employers don’t view parents who take time off for sick children or school plays as committed as those who don’t, they also don’t look kindly on those who think that paid vacation days are actually there to be used.

When I was a young associate at a law firm, oh so many years ago, I was tickled pink to find out that in my first year I would get three glorious weeks of vacation — more than I had ever been entitled to in any other job! I quickly learned, though, that it was a choice that would impact my career — you could take the time off, but you sure wouldn’t be viewed as a serious player if you took it all.

As you might guess, I ultimately didn’t last — for me, what was the point of making all that money if it was expected that I would never take more than a few days here and there? My sanity needed more than that.

It’s even worse now, with those electronic umbilical cords we all can’t seem to function without. We’re never more than a couple clicks away, even when we’re on another continent.

At some point, won’t American workers crumble under the weight of employers’ expectations that we should take as little time as possible? Then who’s going to keep those cogs turning?

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13 Responses to “I Heart Brits”

  1. mayberry Says:

    You would think that we would crumble. But sadly, I see no signs of it yet. Just the fear that anyone who’d dare work less than a 10-hour day can be replaced in a heartbeat.

  2. Lawyer Mama Says:

    When I started at my first law firm I was stunned to discover that we had unlimited vacation time – as long as our professional responsibilities were met. I don’t think I ever took more than 5 days off a year.

    Now, I liberally sprinkle my months with days off and at least 3 week long vacations a year, as does everyone else in my firm. Some employers get it, but not many.

  3. Florinda Says:

    My employer’s a nonprofit that starts new employees off with 18 vacation days a year, and allows you to accumulate up to 6 weeks. At that point, you HAVE to use some before you can earn any more. The sad part is how many employees get up to that max point every year.

    I’ve seen wording in employee handbooks about how important it is to use vacation time, but in reality, your co-workers end up resenting you if you take “too much” time off – especially if they have to cover your responsibilities – and you’ll probably work more right before and after the vacation to get caught up (like that ever happens). Then, as you mention, there are the “electronic umbilical cords” so that they never really have to leave you alone…

    We’re planning a 9-day family road trip next summer, and I’m already worried about taking the time off. How sad is that? They definitely handle this much better in Europe than we do here.

  4. mcewen Says:

    Well how can I remain silent! Those Frencies are even worse – France is basically closed for August.

    When I was little in England we had at least two / three weeks at Spring Break, month for ‘the holidays’, two months for the summer, then there are all the single holiday days, and each of the three school terms [semester] has a break half way through for a week.
    When we left GB my husband was on 56 days holiday a year [maturity] We arrived here to find only 10 days, and you couldn’t take them in advance as it were.
    Most people say it’s linked to productivity, but I’m not so sure.
    Cheers

  5. Amanda Says:

    I lived in Spain for a year after high school, Wednesday businesses and schools shut down from 1-3 to allow a leaisurely lunch. It was incredible, the value aswsigned to time away, time for personal recharging. I wish we could find the common ground in our society. Sigh.

  6. roxy daisy Says:

    I agree so very, very much with your friend. I’ll bet we overworked Americans are actually far less produvtive as a result.

    Check this out:

    http://www.timeday.org/

  7. Mauigirl Says:

    Well said. America has no “family values” when it comes to making money. What worries me is European countries may start emulating us rather than the other way around. I like to think there will always be cultures that value time over money but the specter of unrelenting capitalism seems to be spreading everywhere…

  8. Julie Pippert Says:

    1. Studies (yes, ambiguous, too lazy to find and insert link, sorry) show American work more hours and are less productive now than 30 years ago.

    2. I agree. The culture is COMPLETELY out of hand wrt working, face time, etc. I blogged about this at (again link apologies):

    http://theartfulflower.blogspot.com/2006/10/working-all-live-long-day.html

    3. Chani at Thailand Girl blogged about this more recently. I think this is it:

    http://thailandgal.blogspot.com/2007/06/all-wilting-people.html

    Just in case you are interested in two other voices.

    And also to keep this comment shorter, LOL.

  9. Shannon Says:

    I would love to believe we could have more time off, but how can we compete with workers in other countries, such as India, who are equally educated and skilled and already make us seem lazy and greedy by comparison? My thoughts drift to whether our standards of luxury can be maintained when so many intelligent people in the world would gladly do the same work for less than half the pay and humbly suffer much worse treatment. I’m curious about readers’ opinions on the impact of globalization on standards of living and family stability. I don’t have the answer, but I sometimes think about it, and I would like to know your thoughts too.

  10. Gunfighter Says:

    American workers won’t crumble… we are used to the amount of work… which doesn’t mean that I don’t love my annual vacations!

    We are bound for a two week trip to Disney World, after a three day visit to the beach at St. Simon’s island, in August… two and a half weeks of not getting up at 4 AM. Two and a half weeks of perpetual friday nights… Ah, bliss!

  11. Kelly Says:

    My husband and I are very good friends with a German/Tibetan couple who were transferred to Oklahoma from Switzerland. They have the same reaction to our dinky sized vacations (and we were excited this year to be able to take off 6 days in a row). They always take 6 weeks in the summer, plus a 3 or 4 2-weekers during the year. I always say to my husband, what are we doing wrong?

    Her husband is at exactly at the same level (VP) as my husband and makes the same money. When working they both work 60/70 hours a week. The only difference between them is that my ex-pat friend is employed by a German company instead of an American company. Oh…and the German company is as solid as a rock and my husband’s company was just sold.

    When it was sold I said to him, perhaps we need to go international this time. The Americans haven’t a clue about balance!

  12. Momish Says:

    This is so true and one of the saddest aspects of corporate America. I am right now vacationing with my best friend who lives in England. They are here for a month. She still has four more weeks of vacation left after this month. It is horrible that Americans don’t value family time and relaxation time. I think that if we did, we would be demanding more of it – guilt and worry free.

    You are right, even with three weeks vacation, I don’t feel comfortable taking that much time. Well, I should say I didn’t in the past. Now, I do and don’t care. Sadly, this will negatively effect my career in the long run.

    I have wracked my brain trying to figure out how this situation could be rectified. My only hope is that the globalization currently going on and the way the world is moving towards a worldly workplace, will force America to fall into place with the rest of the world’s family values and respect for quality of life.

    My greatest fear is that (as bullies) America will slowly erode the rest of the world towards this workaholic pace of life.

    Great post on a topic so close to my heart!!

  13. Andrea Says:

    So what do we do about it?

    I think this goes hand in hand with previous discussions I’ve seen about the average length of maternity/paternity leave. It all amounts to employers not thinking of employees as humans who would benefit from a battery recharge now and then but as busy little bees who are leaving their responsibilities unchecked by recharghing said batteries.

    I want to be British.


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