Math has never been my forte but from the time I entered the working world, a certain ratio seemed deranged to me: most Americans are on the job for 50 weeks, and only off for two. In between my third and fourth years of college, I studied abroad and lived with a family of three in Valencia, Spain. They dropped in the apartment for mid-day siestas, as is Spanish custom, and fled to various beaches for four weeks in August. It seemed gloriously cushy compared to the American grind. I've heard past colleagues brag about not taking all of their vacation days (as if leaving money on the table is a sign of dedication). A recent viral tweet was funny because it's true (even if a little exaggeratory): European out-of-offices, it said, read something like: “I’m away camping for the summer. Email again in September," compared to workaholic American OOOs: “I have left the office for two hours to undergo kidney surgery but you can reach me on my cell anytime.”
Some companies in the U.S. seem to be waking up to the mental health benefits of more vacation. Bumble has shut down all of its offices this week, giving 700 employees an extra paid, “fully offline” week of vacation. The female-forward dating app made its $8.3 billion-dollar debut on the stock market in February and founder Whitney Herd “correctly intuited our collective burnout,” according to a since-deleted tweet from Bumble's head of editorial content Clare O'Connor. “In the U.S. especially, where vacation days are notoriously scarce, it feels like a big deal.” As a spokesperson put it to CNBC: “Our global team has had a very challenging time during the pandemic. As vaccination rates have increased and restrictions have begun to ease, we wanted to give our teams around the world an opportunity to shut off and focus on themselves for a week.”
In addition to normal vacation time, social media dashboard company Hootsuite will close its offices from July 5 through 12 for a “Wellness Week” so employees can “‘unplug’ together.” The pandemic, “reminded us how important mental health is,” Hootsuite said, citing stressors from increased time spent online during quarantine, rises in “depression, anxiety, loneliness, and uncertainty,” as well as the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latino communities, and the weight of Black Lives Matter protests and hate crimes against the Asian-American community.
“The weight of these forces have fallen upon an already stressed-out and burned-out workforce,” Hootsuite said. “People have stopped taking much-needed time for self-care, or vacation time to process—in fact, they’re working more than ever before.” Working from home theoretically provides more flexibility—but it also makes it easier to further blur the lines between work and home. According to Bloomberg, people are working a minimum of two additional hours per day around the globe.
There seems to be an increased awareness of the damages incurred by our nonstop American work culture: Naomi Osaka withdrawing from Wimbledon and the French Open, saying her anxiety and depression flare in the face of the media obligations, and Steph Curry deciding not to play in the Olympics in the interest of rest, are two high-level examples. “Quitting your job is hot this summer,” The Atlantic said this week, pointing to a finding from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that “more Americans quit in May than any other month on record going back to the beginning of the century.”
The pandemic exposed the inequities of the American labor force—the contradiction that workers deemed "essential" aren't paid or given benefits to match. About one in four workers—many of them hourly, low-wage workers—receive no guarantee of paid vacation at all, according to a 2019 report by the Center for Economic Policy and Research. (The report was aptly titled “No Vacation Nation.”) Meanwhile, the European Union guarantees four weeks of paid vacation each year by law. The U.S. is a long way off from a midday siesta, but like equal pay and paid leave, more vacation wouldn't just be good for employees, it's good for business. “Productivity requires ample breaks,” Hootsuite said in its Wellness Week announcement. “No one can run back-to-back marathons without burning out.”