Americans need at minimum two weeks of guaranteed vacation days, John de Graaf, president of Take Back Your Time, an organization challenging overwork and time poverty in America, told guests at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Fort Worden in Port Townsend on Monday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Americans need at minimum two weeks of guaranteed vacation days, John de Graaf, president of Take Back Your Time, an organization challenging overwork and time poverty in America, told guests at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Fort Worden in Port Townsend on Monday. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Take Back Your Time director underscores need for vacations in American work culture

John de Graaf tells Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce of benefits for workers and the state.

PORT TOWNSEND — Americans work too long and hard and need guaranteed vacations.

That was the message John de Graaf, executive director of Take Back Your Time, an organization challenging overwork and time poverty in America, had at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Fort Worden on Monday.

Graaf helped write a bill last year that would have required most public and private employers in Washington to provide vacation leave for employees.

The bill, sponsored in 2015 by state Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle, did not pass.

But Graaf is still pushing on to give Washingtonians a break from work. Among the reasons for the proposal is an increase in productivity when employees return from their vacation.

“We see a boost in productivity when people return from vacation,” he said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t last so long — so you do need more vacations.”

What Graaf said was surprising is that it’s not unusual for Americans to not use three or four days of their vacation days.

“Americans’ vacations are about five days shorter than they were in 1980,” he said.

Small businesses shouldn’t feel the pressure of having to stay open every day of the year, he said.

He recalled years ago seeing signs in store windows, saying the business would be closed while the storeowners were on vacation.

“Companies now feel like they can’t be on vacation,” he said. “You will not die if you are not open all the time.”

America’s typical 40-hour work week is uncommon in other parts of the world, particularly Europe, he said. Australians can take a 40-day vacation at half pay if they want to, he said.

Unsurprising, he said, is a study by Gallop that found Americans are happier on the weekends and during vacations, opposed to during work days.

“We become a little obsessed with work as Americans and forget the time we need to enjoy our lives,” he said. “This is considered pretty absurd in most other parts of the world.”

He said that above all, vacation days are the primary benefit millennials want when looking for jobs.

“You have this young generation … that has seen their parents work themselves to death,” he said.

Time off wouldn’t just help employees though, he said.

A study from the University of Washington found the bill mandating vacation would result in a $900 million benefit for the state.

With the time off from work, he said Americans would have more time to enjoy and explore the nation’s national parks.

“The Grand Canyon — one of our most spectacular national parks — the average person that goes to the canyon looks at it for 17 minutes,” he said.

The next Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon is scheduled for noon Sept. 19 at the Fort Worden Commons.

________

Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5550, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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