For me, summer is the sound of cicadas, the sight of lightning bugs, and the setting off on a family vacation. My mother was a teacher and my dad a farmer, so their schedules aligned perfectly with my school schedule, which allowed us to take summer vacations as a family. Because my dad didn’t like to fly, we drove everywhere—across the country to California, down to the southern tip of Texas, and out to the beaches in Virginia and Florida. I’ve continued this tradition with my daughter. We take a family vacation every summer.
As I head out on vacation this year, I do so recognizing that I’m fortunate to be able to take a break, to pause to reflect on the work I do, and to have a chance to recharge my creative thinking. I know many people in this country live pay check to pay check and can’t afford to take time away from work, much less go on vacation. Working as I do in criminal justice, I also often think about some of those who can’t take vacations at all: the incarcerated, the families suffering from the economic hardships associated with having an incarcerated family member, and the individuals and families struggling with the conditions that confront citizens returning from incarceration.
Even among those who can take a vacation, many don’t do so. In fact, a majority of Americans who are given paid leave by their companies don’t take all of it each year. In 2017, findings from a Glassdoor survey revealed that 23 percent of employees reported taking 100 percent of their eligible time off, while another 23 percent of employees reported taking 25 percent or less of their eligible time off. Nine percent reported taking no vacation or paid time off at all. The survey also found that more Americans in 2017 (66 percent) reported working when they took a vacation than in 2014 (61 percent).
According to Project Time Off, the 52 percent of employees who left vacation time on the table forfeited approximately 212 million days, which is equivalent to $62.2 billion in lost benefits. That means employees effectively donated an individual average of $561 in work time to their employer in 2017. Project Time Off estimates that “The more than 700 million days that go unused represent a $255 billion opportunity that the American economy is not capturing. Had Americans used that vacation time, the activity could have generated 1.9 million jobs.”
There’s a lot of research out there about the benefits of employee vacations, which include higher productivity, stronger workplace morale, greater employee retention, and improved health with lower stress levels. From these and other studies, such as a Gallup report from earlier this year, it’s clear that vacation leads to happier and more engaged employees, which is why I encourage my staff to take time off, truly disconnect, and reinvigorate themselves.
One of my favorite ways to do this for myself when I’m on vacation is to read. Having to balance work, home, and raising my daughter, Claire, I don’t ordinarily have the time to read as much as I would like. But when I’m on vacation, it’s one of my priorities.
So, with the dog days of summer upon us, if you aren’t already planning to, think about taking a few days off if you can. Whether you’re traveling for vacation or sticking close to home, be sure to take a book with you, too. And if you need a recommendation, here are some of my favorites:
- Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurty. My favorite book!
- The Short and Tragic life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League, by Jeff Hobbs
- American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
- Euphoria, by Lily King.
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple