Paid time off

The first job I took out of college provided 15 “paid time off days,” 5 “sick” days, and two floating holidays. In total, that was 22 days of paid time off, in addition to weekends (obviously) and I believe 11 national holidays. The second job, for your first two years of employment, provided 18 paid time off days, unlimited sick days (with the rationale that, how can you really control how many days you are sick in a year?), plus national holidays. That was just for the first two years. Once you reached your three-year anniversary, which I did, you get 23 paid time of days, so an additional five, plus all the other days I mentioned. AND, if that wasn’t enough, the second year I was there, they gave all the days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day off; that’s an additional four days. And THAT doesn’t even include the four “summer days” we got to take between Memorial Day and Labor Day. What does that add up to? That’s 31 days off in a year, in addition to national holidays!! (And, if we really had to get detailed on this… when I left this company, they paid me out three unused paid-time-off days. So, I never even used all my paid time off).

The third and the fourth jobs, the fourth of which I am on now, provide “unlimited paid time off.” We all know it’s not truly unlimited, and that if I decided to take a whole month or two off, I’d probably get fired, but no one really says that to you. The rationale is: take what you need. Be responsible. We are all adults who should be trusted to manage our own schedules, and thus that means managing personal time with work responsibilities. I’d say that on average at my last two jobs, I probably took off somewhere between 22-25 official work days off per year. Because I’ve had the good fortune and privilege of working at these organizations, I’ve never really thought I took off a lot of time. What would I be comparing it to? I’m comparing it to what I’ve had in the last ten years.

So, you can imagine how disgusted I was when I was having a chat with a colleague yesterday, and she said that for her entire working life, which by now spans over 20 years, she’s barely taken five days off per year. For over 20 years, she’s never taken a work-week of five days off? She’s never taken an international trip of longer than a handful of days? Has she even traveled? Does she spend quality time with her young children and husband, or her aging parents? Does she have friends who do anything enjoyable with their lives outside of work?

“I’ve just never wanted to,” she said, shrugging. “I never felt a need.” She’s the kind of person who does work as soon as she wakes up, and as soon as her kids are put to sleep at night, she works until 11 or midnight.

This is the American mentality, that work needs to be your life, that you live to work. I do not live to work. I work to live. And I do not hide that from anyone, including my employer. What is the reason to be like this, anyway? You think you will get a pension? Pensions are nonexistent at companies like mine; the word doesn’t even exist. You think loyalty will get you somewhere or provide you with some sense of job security? Almost all employment contracts are for “at-will” employment, which means that you have the right to leave whenever you want for whatever reason. At the same time, your employer also has the right to fire you whenever they want to, without any cause. So you can work all you want, take only 3-4 days off per year, slave away for a company that will fire you quicker than I can blink my eyes. To me, there’s zero reason to be loyal at a company in the United States. Loyalty gets you absolutely nothing. And employers like it that way. They don’t want to owe you anything. Or, maybe you think you will get more respect for not taking time off, or people will think you are harder working. Yes, that may be true. But it’s also true that people like me will think you have no defined joy or hobbies outside of work, and that you simply live to allow your job to define you.

What I really wanted to ask my colleague is: if you died tomorrow, would you be completely satisfied that you spent the last 20+ years of your life slaving away for corporations instead of spending quality time with your loved ones, or even traveling to learn more about the world, or pursuing some special hobby of yours? This is when you had a choice; it’s not like you didn’t have the choice.

I have moments where I feel very loyal to where I work. Then, they tend to diminish quite quickly when I realize that all I am is a number, another worker cranking out work for some employer who isn’t really going to care or protect me. Part of this is shaped by the fact that I was fired (well, laid off) from my first job during a big downsizing in light of the financial crisis of 2008-2009. I was easily hired, then easily fired. The other part of it is that my dad has always said to me that employers won’t do anything for their employees, and that if you want the life you want to live, you have to work for yourself. “Why should I have to answer to someone else?” my dad scoffed when he opted for early retirement to run his own business. “I’m busting my ass off for some white guy to get rich. You’ll never have the life you want working for the white man, or for any man!” He’s said this to me in varying words over the years.

Unfortunately, I am not as skilled as my dad. I still haven’t found anything that can allow me to be financially independent yet. It does not appear that in today’s day and age that people highly value handmade cards, scrapbooks, or even a homemade meal on their table to the point that they would pay me exactly what I am getting at my day job.

There’s such a thing as working hard and playing hard. It’s unfortunate that this is not quite part of the American capitalistic work mentality.

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