Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Argument for Federal Paid Time Off Laws

Ask people from other countries what they think of a typical American, and I’m certain you’ll hear a few responses saying that we are lazy.  And it’s difficult to argue against the viewpoint.  With 35% of the American population obese, our nation far outranks all others.  And people who are obese are lazy.

But wait one second.  That last sentence there isn’t all that accurate.  It’s hard to argue the definition of obesity, but laziness is something else entirely.  When I picture a lazy person, I visualize some guy sitting on a couch, his pot-belly hanging out under his shirt, munching on Cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew and watching one television show after another that he’s recorded on his DVR (this may or may not describe me…….).  But I also picture this guy doing this all day, non-stop.  During evenings.  On weekends.  Pretty much any time he’s not working, this is what he’s doing.  So that’s definitely not me.  I enjoy television, and I’ve been known to sit and watch a few hours at a time, but rarely do I get the chance to do that!

Yes, sitting on a couch all day will make a person obese, but just sitting in general will as well.  And for the millions of office workers in the U.S., our jobs are partially (maybe mostly) to blame for our big butts.  Read a few of my earlier posts for more evidence toward that.  It’s very VERY difficult to be active when you are glued to a chair and a computer screen for eight hours a day.

Yet ask any office worker—or any worker for that matter—in America about taking time off to take care of themselves, and they’ll say it’s simply not possible.  I read an article about a new strain of norovirus (stomach flu) that is making its way around the U.S.  This part is a bit gross, but it is spread through fecal matter, and people who aren’t washing their hands thoroughly after using the restroom are contributing to its propagation.  Food workers, in particular, are tossing fuel on the fire because they may be ill, can’t take the time off to recover because most of them don’t have ANY paid time off, and thus are spreading these germs into the food that we eat.  Yum!  You can read more about it here: http://vitals.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/28/16739631-norovirus-why-washing-your-hands-isnt-enough?lite

Here are some stunning facts on America’s PTO and vacation policies (source http://modernservantleader.com/servant-leadership/americas-struggle-with-vacation-and-paid-time-off/ --author of the article cited CNN):

America vs. Other Country Vacation Standards
America trails other countries when it comes to vacation.  The facts speak for themselves (source, CNN.com):
- Only 57% of U.S. employees use their entire allotted vacation time (Reuters/Ipsos)
- U.S. Employers are not obligated under any federal law to provide paid vacations
- More than 2 dozen industrialized countries require employers to offer 4 or more weeks of vacation (2009, Mercer)
- Finland, Brazil, and France guarantee employees 6 weeks of vacation
- Approximately 25% of U.S. workers do not have access to any paid vacation

So in other words, one could argue that we are working ourselves to death.  We get sick, we go to work.  We have a baby, our mothers go back to work when the child is only a month or two old, and our fathers are lucky to have any time off at all.  And even when we do have time off, we STILL work.  I was off for a week last week, and yet I still logged a half a dozen hours of work.  On days that I take PTO, I find myself checking my emails every half hour or so on my phone, and often times I’m finding myself remotely connecting to the office to take care of one task or another.  Some bosses even frown upon workers who use PTO, so much so that many are afraid to use all of their vacation days.  Doing so can be seen as a sign of weakness, of laziness, and even disloyalty to an employer.  And at best, workers who don’t use all of their PTO days wear it proudly like a badge.  “Oh yeah.  Look at me.  I only took off three days last year.”  The notion is just silly, is it not?

We have created a culture in America where we can’t relax, recuperate, or recover.

What else causes obesity, aside from inactivity and overeating?  Stress.  What increases the risk of chronic heart disease?  Stress.  What can lead to hair loss and/or gray or white hair? Stress.  And what causes stress?  Working too much.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy working.  There are times when I need to exercise my brain, and I do that every day while on the job.  But there are times when I need to exercise my body, and there are times when I need to allow both my brain and my body to relax and recover, and those times are rapidly diminishing in our American society.

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