Vacate the Premises

I haven’t been blogging much lately. Some of it, I think, is simply the summer heat. Out here in west Texas, we spend a month or two with 100 degree days, no rain, and sun shining in places we don’t like. Calling them the dog-days just seems cruel to dogs.

Mostly, though, I’ve been using up my vacation days. When I was a full-time faculty member, I didn’t need vacation days. We had summer, the holidays, and if I needed to be off-campus for an afternoon, I left. One of the glories of teaching at the college level is that I can do parts of my job from anywhere. I have to be in class and I have to be in my office at certain times, but research, service, and writing can take place anywhere at anytime. The advent of skype and google hangout even allows me to host virtual office hours from any where with internet service. (Lest anyone think college profs are lazy, the average college professor works 55-70 hours a week. We just don’t all work between 8-5.)

Last summer, though, I began a stint as a full-time administrator, accruing vacation days, working 8-5 (5 days a week!), and becoming a small cog in the larger wheel of the machine. Some days I can’t decide if I’m Milton Waddams or Bill Lumberg. (If you don’t get the reference from Office Space, do yourself a favor and watch the movie. In fact, if I were you, I would skip the blog. The movie is much better than what you are reading now.)

I’m not asking for sympathy here. I fully realize that accruing vacation time is not a benefit everyone has. In fact, according to various reports, American workers receive the fewest paid vacation days of any industrialized country. I’m also not arguing for some sort of government intervention. Certainly, it might be nice if the government designated more national or federal holidays. Doing so might allow some companies protection when they closed (since all their competitors would be closed) and federal holidays often provide the only true vacation days for workers in hourly or lower-salary ranges. I hate to sound cynical, though, but those goofballs in Washington can’t even agree when their own holidays start. Heaven help us if they start telling us when to take the day off.

But, I also think we need to come to grips with vacation. I realize the very idea of vacationing is ripe with economic and cultural bias. America, we are told in school, was built on hard work and sacrifice. We aren’t France (or Greece), for instance because we demand hard work. The “puritan work ethic” demands 40 hours a week (or more). Idle hands, our pastors tell us, are the devils’ workshop. (Feel free to insert your own cliche here.)

In other words, if you aren’t working, find something to do until you are. We have created a kind of cultural guilt around not working and we too often feel compelled to justify those moments we aren’t busy. (See my defense of college professors above for example. Not only do we work, I say, but we work more hours than you! I willingly admit I’m part of the problem not the solution.)

But that’s just not right. If all we do is work, we become our job, forgetting that the purpose of work isn’t to gain a foothold into heaven but to provide sustenance and an ability to live the good life. Unfortunately, we have increasingly defined the good life as a world filled with toys and trips necessitating more work. We need to refashion work as a means to an end not as an end in and of itself. We should work because it lets us do the things we like.

Perhaps even more disturbing is too many Americans don’t take the vacation time they have.  Many workers are scared, worried that if the office survives while they are gone, the boss might wonder why she hired them in the first place. As a result, employees don’t go on vacation or they take a vacation but keep the phone on vibrate all day.

Trust me–just because the office doesn’t stop functioning when you are gone doesn’t mean they don’t want you there. In fact, studies show us that taking a break, stepping back, vacating work is healthy for the bottom line and your mental health.

In my office, I encourage my staff to take their vacation days. Use them all at once or piece meal throughout the year, but use them. Take a break, recharge the batteries, get that home repair taken care of so you will quit obsessing about it at work and, most of all, forget about us for a while.

When you come back to work, show us the photos. Just not tomorrow. I won’t be in.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

2 Responses to Vacate the Premises

  1. John Wegner says:

    Great comment. This dilemma is the reason I’m tempted to support more nationalized holidays. I focused on the businesses but you rightly focus on those workers who would benefit. Thanks.

  2. klyse3 says:

    It is even more difficult if you are one of those less privileged workers – without vacation days, taking a day off is a gamble. Not only do you risk the anger of management, but you’re also losing money. It’s a lose-lose.

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