Survey: Overworked Americans Can't Use Up Limited Vacation, Raising Health Concerns

NEW YORK - One in six U.S. employees is so overworked he/she is unable to use up annual vacation time, despite the fact that Americans have the least vacation time in the industrialized world, a landmark national survey released today reveals.

"This survey is a wakeup call for Americans to realize that taking a vacation is not frivolous behavior. It's essential to staying healthy," said Alan Muney, M.D., chief medical officer and executive vice president at Oxford Health Plans, Inc., which sponsored the national survey. "Regular vacations are preventive medicine - they cut down on stress-related illness and save health care dollars."

On the job, workers often endure a high level of stress, the national survey of 632 men and women shows. Some 34 percent report they have such pressing jobs that they have no down time at work. A full 32 percent work and eat lunch at the same time. Meanwhile, 32 percent never leave the building once they arrive at work; 19 percent say their job makes them feel older than they are and 17 percent say work causes them to lose sleep at home.

Oxford's survey found one in six American workers (18 percent) is unable to use up annual vacation time due to job demands. This is true despite the fact that Americans are the most vacation-starved people in the industrialized world,* according to the World Tourism Organization.

"If you take off a week, you've got three times as much work to do when you get back," said Bob Boudreau, 42, a computer analyst in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., who has gone without a vacation in two of the last four years.

Sheri Hinshaw, 31, of Seattle, Wash., quit her job, partly because she hasn't been able to take a vacation in five years. She remembers thinking, "I can't go - I've got too many things to do." She recently left her job as a program manager at Microsoft and took a less demanding position overseeing computers for the Seattle Opera in order to "have a life" and possibly take a vacation next summer.

The survey showed that while most employers make it easy to keep medical appointments (70 percent) and return to work after illness (68 percent), other companies exude a corporate culture that discourages healthy behavior. Some 19 percent of survey respondents said workplace pressures make them feel they must attend work even when injured or sick; 17 percent said it is difficult to take time off or leave work in an emergency and 8 percent believe that if they were to become seriously ill they would be fired or demoted.

The survey also showed that 14 percent of respondents believe their employer makes it difficult to maintain a healthy diet and 14 percent feel company management only promotes people who habitually work late.

Finally, while stress relief is a benefit of taking a vacation, another motivating factor is medical research that links vacation to a lowered risk of death,** Dr. Muney noted. "Taking a vacation is a serious health issue that should not be ignored. It could save your life," he said.

The random telephone survey was conducted from Aug. 17 - Sept. 1, 2000 by Central Marketing Inc. of New York City. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent.

Founded in 1984, Oxford Health Plans, Inc. (www.oxfordhealth.com) provides health plans to employers and individuals in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, through its direct sales force, independent insurance agents and brokers. Oxford's services include traditional health maintenance organizations (HMOs), point-of-service (POS) plans, preferred provider organization (PPO) plans, third-party administration of employer-funded benefits plans and Medicare plans.

 

NOTES:
* Annual vacation days: Italy 42; France 37; Germany 35; Brazil 34; Britain 28; Canada 26; South Korea 25; Japan 25; U.S. 13.
** 1. Researchers at State University of New York at Oswego in Sept. 2000 published a study of 12,866 men, aged 35 to 57, that found regular vacations lowered risk of death by almost 20 percent; 2. Researchers using the Framingham Heart Study data in 1992 published a study of 749 women, aged 45-64, that found frequent vacations cut risk of death among all women by half.

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