Join the Movement to “Take Back Your Time”

VacationCounts isn’t the only voice online that encourages Americans to take all of their vacation days each year. Back in 2002, the non-profit “Take Back Your Time” was launched as a way to fight back against the epidemic of too much work and too little free time. Besides guaranteed vacation benefits, they also push for paid sick days, paid family leave, and fair working hours for both full-time and part-time employees

Are You Committed To Taking Your Vacation Time?

Just read their 10 Reasons Why Vacations Matter to be reminded of this fact, though I bet you could come up with more than 10 good reasons. While employees clearly benefit by having and taking vacation days regularly (see the infographic below for more convincing facts), employers benefit greatly as well. Studies have shown increased productivity, lower turnover, healthier staff, and greater competitiveness results from a workforce that has paid vacation and family time-off benefits. Plus the US economy as a whole would benefit from increased sales and tax revenue, as this Forbes article found.

Infographic Take-Back-Your-Time Vacations

Source: Copyright Take Back Your Time (

The leaders of this organization are all experts in their fields of human resources, education, work-life balance, political activism, family studies, tourism, and the environment. It is clear from reading their mission statement that they strongly believe that increased overtime hours, lack of national time-off policies, and work-related stress have a massive negative affect on employees. I truly appreciate their commitment to promoting the value of leisure time in the United States and helping to transform the work environment.

While there is a long way to go, Take Back Your Time is a friend of VacationCounts as an advocate for maximizing vacation benefits at work.

“Time to Care” Policy Agenda

As the work-life-vacation balance blogger at VacationCounts, I do not personally lobby for changes in the law to bring about time-off policy improvements for all Americans. My goal is to teach working people how to get more time off, maximize their existing time off, and take more vacations. The Take Back Your Time organization has much broader goals as they advocate for change in American culture backed up by the employment policies necessary to achieve their agenda.

Besides their Vacation Commitment Day which asks workers in the U.S. to take a pledge to take more vacations “as a way to reduce stress, improve the quality of life, and make everyone a little happier and healthier”, they promote the following national policy statements. Which ones are most important to your work-life-family situation?

  1. Paid Leave for the Birth or Adoption of a Child

  2. At Least One Week of Paid Sick Leave for All Workers

  3. Paid Annual Vacation Leave for All Workers

  4. Limiting the Compulsory Overtime Work

  5. Making Election Day a Holiday

  6. Making it Easier for Americans to Work Part-Time

Take Back Your Time Organization

Interview with John de Graaf

I had the opportunity to interview the president and founder of the Take Back Your Time non-profit organization, John de Graaf. As editor of the official handbook for the movement, he is an expert in all the ways in which greater working hours and vacation deprivation have led to our dire situation.

Here are the questions I proposed to him and his critical insights into the cause and how you can take back your own vacation time.

What led you to start Take Back Your Time and where is the movement today?

It actually grew out of concerns about excessive consumerism and materialism in the late nineties. I had done two films, one, RUNNING OUT OF TIME, about overwork in America, and another, AFFLUENZA, about conspicuous consumption. We were worried about how much debt Americans were getting into well before the financial crisis. We wanted to make the case that there were downsides to excessive materialism, including having to overwork to pay for everything, especially when people got into debt. We argued that people were sacrificing time for families, health, community, recreation and so forth to keep consuming more stuff.

We started TAKE BACK YOUR TIME in 2002 to make the case for time as a priority. Our first few years we grew rapidly, but we had a major downturn after the financial crisis. Now, with the support of Diamond Resorts International®, we are coming back to life in a big way and focusing on the need for more vacation time in America. I am very optimistic about the new campaign.

What is your biggest challenge to convincing employers to make time-off issues a priority?

Employers tend to believe that if hard work is good, more of it is better. This is only true up to a point, until it begins to lead to too much stress and burnout, and lowered productivity. But it is not just employers, many of whom recognize the problem. Americans generally just don’t value free time the way Europeans do, for example. And many of them, sometimes correctly, sometimes not, are fearful about taking time off. They are fearful of being seen as slackers by their employers, or of having too much work pile up while they are gone.

Many employers feel that giving more vacation time when their competitors don’t will put them at a disadvantage, but the evidence generally shows the opposite. Though it costs a bit more at first to establish good vacation policies, they quickly pay for themselves with more dedicated, productive, healthier workers and less turnover.

Has technology and the Internet made the epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling, and time famine worse?

Yes, I think so, though it doesn’t have to. Remember, these were supposed to be “labor-saving” advancements. But the constant electronic leash adds to greater stress and burnout. Studies from the Harvard Business School show employees are more productive when they take more time off and are less available by cell phone or email while on vacation. I’m not opposed to all electronic contact during time off—sometimes a quick check of messages to see if there are any emergencies makes vacation time less stressful—but employers need to be careful not to expect constant contact and to really encourage workers to get away for periods of time.

How can full-time workers in the USA help bring about awareness and change at their place of work?

They can show appreciation for time off by being more productive and attentive during time on. They can become informed about the studies that show that vacations are a win-win for them and their employers and make the case to their managers.

  • They can talk at lunch and during breaks about their vacations and/or vacation plans and get their co-workers more excited.
  • They can commit to taking the time they have coming and certainly not trade it for more money.
  • When their productivity rises they can talk to employers about getting more time off instead of just a pay raise.

This is, I realize, a hard sell, because, unlike Europeans, Americans tend to choose money over time if given a choice. But as more and more evidence about the value of vacations and the health costs and other costs of not taking them surfaces, they are more likely to think differently.

Which of the many proven benefits for going on vacation resonate most with employers and with employees?

I think the health benefits are foremost. Americans spend nearly twice as much as other rich countries on health care, and we have the worst health outcomes. In large part this is the result of stress from overwork, what my friend, cardiologist Sarah Speck, calls “the new tobacco.” Non-vacationers have much higher rates of heart disease and depression than vacationers. They get sick and miss work more often and are less productive if they work while sick or stressed. But many other things matter—vacations improve family bonds and happiness, they are shown to improve children’s school performance, they clearly reduce job turnover.

The data on increased productivity is also important, but not quite as strong as these other factors. And of course, vacation travel boosts our overall economy; a cost benefit analysis by graduate students at the University of Washington Public Policy School found that a two-week vacation law would result in overall economic gains for the state of nearly a billion dollars a year.

I think vacations are also about freedom, which is a fundamental value for Americans. You can’t really be free if you don’t have any free time. I don’t think we talk about that enough.

What is your best tip to encourage Americans to take all their paid vacation days each year?

Plan your vacation. Figure it out in advance. Let your employer know the dates you prefer well in advance. Talk with co-workers about how you can help each other when either of you are on vacation so work doesn’t just pile up. Planning will also get you excited about your vacation, and allows you to purchase cheaper tickets, etc. for travel.

Some people find that owning some piece of vacation property makes it more likely they will use it for vacations—this is an important value of vacation ownership in getting people to take the time. But the main thing is to plan in advance, start reading and thinking about where you want to go and what you need to do to make the trip easier for you, your family and your employer. In my own experience, the planning is as much fun as the doing.

What’s next for Take Back Your Time?

We are excited about our upcoming 2015 NYC Vacation Commitment Summit on June 15th, made possible by support from Diamond Resorts. We hope to grow our membership and find out what other aspects of time off they think we should work on in addition to vacation time. But we are committed to staying with the vacation campaign for the long haul because America needs this and needs us. Really, the support we have received from Diamond Resorts on this has been a godsend and we hope other companies and funders will want to join the campaign.

If we succeed in showing America how much vacation matters, future generations will look back at us gratefully. It’s such an exciting project and it can make a difference in so many stressful lives.

I want to thank John de Graaf of the Take Back Your Time organization again for not just the time he took to share his expertise with VacationCounts readers, but also for his tireless effort to promote a revolution in thinking about work-life-vacation balance in the U.S. and Canada.

To learn more about their initiatives, research, and ongoing campaigns I strongly encourage you to follow them online at Twitter and Facebook.

I also recommend the book that started it all which you can purchase from using our affiliate link.

Quote from my 5-star review on Amazon:

With so many well written and insightful articles by leading experts in their fields, you can quickly learn a lot about the advantages of working fewer hours and having more career flexibility and maybe even become inspired to do something about the problem of “time poverty” as they call it. Since the articles are each self-contained and written by a different author, you can easily pick and choose to read those that will make an impact in your life and career.

Stay tuned for our coverage of their Vacation Commitment Summit to be posted to this site after the event. I’m sure you’ll be overwhelmed by the positive news and advice on this topic. Even though this organization is leading the charge, we still need you to both encourage your co-workers to take their vacations for all the above reasons and to have a discussion with your employer to institute the time off policies we all deserve.