We’re entering the summer months, which is the traditional time when most workers take vacations. And it’s an annual reminder of how much paid vacation time we get from our place of work (assuming we have one, assuming we aren’t small business owners who basically have to work all the time).
It’s interesting to compare the way these vacations are structured in different countries. The legal systems in most countries mandate that all private sector employees receive a minimum number of days of annual leave, with pay. In the UK, that’s 28 days above and beyond the holidays, while workers in France (25), Spain (22), Germany (20), and Australia (20) are allowed to take roughly a month or more away from the office. Other countries are a bit stingier about their vacation guarantees: Chile and South Korea (mandated 15 day vacations), Israel (11), Canada and Japan (10) and Mexico (6) typically give their workers less time off than the Europeans and Australians.
What about the U.S.? The actual government-mandated vacation days in the U.S. is zero, the very bottom of any list. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which legislates working hours and overtime, doesn’t include any language about sick days, federal holidays or vacation leave. Workers have to negotiate all of that on an individual basis—even whether they’re allowed to take off public holidays. Lest you find that crazy, know that the US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research found that one in four private-sector workers were given zero hours or days of paid holiday.
More typically, most companies award between five and 15 paid vacation days a year. That sounds much better, until you discover that, according to a recent Glassdoor survey, the average American worker takes just half of his or her allocated paid vacation time. American workers worry about falling behind in their workload, or that someone will cover their absence and outperform them, moving ahead for a promotion or a raise. And when American employees DO take a vacation, they typically stay in touch with their day jobs via email, text or phone calls.
Add it all up, and it’s no wonder that employers and workers in most other countries describe the American business landscape as a ‘workaholic culture.’
Enjoy your vacation this summer—assuming you decide to take it.