Word of the Day for Americans: “Vacation”

I sent an email to a European colleague this summer and got the following automatic message in return:

Dr. So and So is on holiday for the month of July. Consistent with university policy, all email sent to her during this period is automatically deleted. If you wish to contact her, please do so next month.

Now there’s a place that understands what it means to be on vacation. Can you imagine coming back to no email? Not receiving email during your vacation? I can’t, because I work in America.

Throughout my brief vacation I got email after email from Americans that opened with some variant of the phrase “I know you are on vacation, but”, as if making this statement somehow changed the fact that I was supposed to be on vacation. The worst offender was a committee chair who was told repeatedly that I would not be attending a meeting during my family vacation, but the day before the meeting nonetheless emailed me a 300-page long document with a note that read “I know you can’t attend the meeting because of your vacation, so I am sending you the material that we will be discussing so that you can email in your analysis of it for us”. I think she believed this was unusually accommodating on her part.

A friend had an even worse experience. He went on a family vacation to a remote area where he had no email or cell phone signal. When he returned two weeks later he found out that he had been demoted. While he was on vacation, his company had announced a re-organization. His boss said “I expected you to be calling me and emailing me every day communicating your vision of how you fit in with the new structure. When you didn’t I knew you weren’t really committed to the company.” Never mind that he couldn’t even have known that the re-org had happened and never mind even more than he was on freaking vacation.

Employees of the U.S. unite. Do not email your co-workers on vacation, ever. Do not call them or fax them or text them either. And if your boss asks you to do so, state firmly that your hard-working colleague is on vacation, and ask your colleague to do the same for you when the situation is reversed.

Capitalism is a mighty thing that can produce much good. But if we don’t place limits on it, it will eat our bodies, our souls and our families alive. So American workers, look up “vacation” in the dictionary, commit the words to memory and live by them always.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.