Over at The Jesus Creed blog today, Scot McKnight raises an important question about Americans and vacation. Here are some stats:

  • Germany requires employers to give their workers at least four weeks of vacation.
  • Finland, Brazil and France (no surprise) offer even more, with six weeks of mandatory time off annually.
  • In the United States, employers are not obligated by law to offer any vacation. At all. Of course, most do, but it often starts out at just two weeks.

I’ve been fortunate the last few years to work for an enlightened company that offers about four and a half weeks of vacation time to employees annually — and sincerely encourages us to take it. Those vacation days have enabled me to be more creative (at least half of my Flunking Sainthood book was written during two writing retreats last year). They help me to be more spiritual and a better mom, a more communicative friend, and a happier person.

Yet I’ve found that many successful people I know are almost embarrassed that they take vacations. According to Business Week magazine, 30% of professionals utilize less than half their vacation time.

One professional won’t even put a vacation message on his email account because he doesn’t want it to look like he’s unavailable or not taking his job seriously. In these days of layoffs and economic pressure, no one wants to appear to be loafing — even when some studies show that vacations actually make you a better performer on the job. In one study, post-trip performance improved by 82%.

How much vacation time do you get? Do you take it all, and do you check email while you’re away? How do you find balance?

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