Vacation: It's a Sustainability Issue

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Long hours at work and limited vacation time are common for Americans, and Washington residents are no exception. A recent survey by Take Back Your Time shows that, in 2008, 71 percent of the Washington voters surveyed had two weeks or less paid vacation time and 33 percent had none at all.

Take Back Your Time, an organization working in the US and Canada to help us fight the "time famine." Seattle-based John de Graaf, a Worldchanging ally, is the organization's national coordinator.

At the local level, Take Back Your Time is part of a coalition of labor, health, business and other organizations that are studying ways to guarantee more vacation time for Washington residents, including the possibility of sponsoring a ballot initiative. As part of the effort to lay the foundation for a ballot initiative, in February Take Back Your Time commissioned a survey of Washington voters (results will soon be available on their website), and report that they found strong support for a law mandating a minimum annual amount of paid leave, with 60 percent of voters surveyed supporting a law to require 10 or more days of paid vacation each year. Passing such a measure would make Washington the first state in the nation to guarantee paid vacation time for workers.

Fighting for more leisure time might not seem like a high priority in light of the many environmental and economic challenges we face, but there are good reasons to consider America's vacation deficit to be a sustainability issue. One of the best of these reasons is health. Too much work and insufficient rest is a source of stress, and the negative health effects of stress are well documented -- in fact, it is estimated that 90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related complaints.

In contrast to US policies, European Union law guarantees four weeks of annual paid leave to full-time workers. Worth noting: Europeans suffer from anxiety and depression at half the rate of Americans. As the Obama administration moves forward to tackle the looming costs of health care, preventative medicine in the form of vacation days looks like a bargain. Here's to Washington leading the way!

Read more about how increasing leisure time leads to improved health, reduced consumption, less traffic and happier families in articles by Colin Beavan and John de Graaf in the Worldchanging archive.

John Tulinsky has a collection of post-graduate degrees, most recently a Master's in Information Management from the University of Washington. He is amazed by the possibilities for collaboration and community made possible by the internet and enjoys long, long bike rides.

Photo credit: flickr/Dan Strange, Creative Commons license.

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