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Use poor economy to boost time off

Creative strategies can add to vacation days

When family rights advocate John De Graff started doing some historical research, he came across a shocking discovery – that medieval European peasants had more vacation time than modern American office workers.

De Graff, the national coordinator of Take Back Your Time Day, based his figures on the number of religious holidays peasants took off to eat, drink and spend time with their families, and found it was about two weeks extra. He even printed up T-shirts saying: “Medieval Peasants Had More Vacation Than You.”

As the economy falters and fewer employers give raises, it might be a good time for some American workers to negotiate more time off instead.

But that’s not to say it will be easy. According to Rebecca Ray, research assistant at the Center for Economic Policy Research and co-author of “No-Vacation Nation,” there is no federal or state protection to stop employers from firing employees just for asking for vacation time.

“The employer might not explain the reason for the firing, so it’s difficult to get accurate statistics on how often it happens,” said Ray, who would like to see federal protection for employees.

Employers should also know that a rested employee is a productive employee. Joe Robinson, founder of the Work to Live Movement, tells employers who hire him to improve employee motivation that research shows productivity goes up after a vacation.

There are a number of steps that workers can take to push for more time off without being asked to clear out their desk:

Vacation pooling

Under vacation pools, employees trade time off. One employee may take no vacation one year but double his time the next year by trading with a workmate.

Other vacation pools allow employees to lump their vacation, holiday and personal time in one, so that they are given a set amount of days off.


According to Robinson, mentioning to your boss that you are willing to go on vacation without any pay can often be a very effective way to get some time off.

Robinson advocates a non-combative approach, explaining to the employer why it’s in his or her interests to give you a vacation.

Take what you get

It may seem obvious, but many people don’t check how much time they are entitled to take off. Many others are reluctant to take the average nine days of paid vacation to which they are entitled, often because they are afraid it will show weakness or lack of loyalty.

In 2005, U.S. workers collectively turned down a staggering 1.6 million years of vacation time that was offered to them.

Vacation wisely

If vacation time is limited and your boss won’t budge, then recharge in the best way possible.

Robinson is concerned about the rising popularity of “staycations” – lounging at home to offset rising fuel costs and the weak dollar. He believes those breaks are not as restful.

He recommends activity vacations: hiking, canoeing, chess or some other activity that challenges the brain in new ways.