With summer officially upon us, it's always good to take a look at how the U.S. stacks up, vacation-wise, against the rest of the world. Of course, since we've been hearing for years about those European lay-abouts who take entire months off at a time, virtually closing down their countries, we all know already that we're at the low end of the vacation stack. Now Mercer Human Resource Consulting, in an article that recently appeared on CNN's money-related site, has the confirming details for us.
Of the 49 countries (27 in Europe, 6 Mideast-Africa, 14 Asia-Pacific, plus Canada and the U.S.), you can put the foam finger away. Based on the number of vacation days, plus paid national holidays, We're Number 45! Only Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and - here's a surprise - our neighbors to the north trail us. (China is not on the list. I guess that as long as there's a Wal-Mart, there'll be no taking any time off in China.)
So much for my fantasy that Canada is a fairy-tale version of the United States: all the perks and advantages and none of the crap. I already knew that the Canadian dollar was worth less, now, it appears, the vacation time is, too.
But there's a bit of apple-orange going on here (or maybe it's apple and grape). Unlike most (all?) of the other countries in survey, the U.S. has no laws mandating how much vacation must be granted. (E.U. membership stipulates 20 vacation days in addition to whatever public holidays are granted.) For the U.S., Mercer uses a figure of 15 vacation days for an employee with ten years tenure in a large company, plus 10 holidays, to come up with a total of 25. If this number sounds high to anyone who's just switched jobs and is back with a lousy two weeks off, it is. A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) suggests that such a figure greatly overstates what most U.S. workers experience. The CEPR study found:
...the norm to be much lower when considering companies of all sizes and workers of all tenures: 9 days of paid vacation with 6 days of paid holidays. It also estimates that almost one in four U.S. workers don't get any paid days off at all.
If we use this lower figure, the U.S. would come in dead last in terms of vacation.
The places to live if you want lots of vacation? Well, topping the list is Finland with 44 days off (30 vacation days, 14 public holidays). This I can say. It's so cold and dark there during the winter, they have to make sure that everyone has the chance to make a Vitamin D getaway to someplace warm and sunny each year. (I'll bet that one of those public holidays is "Seasonal Affective Disorder Day", on which the Finns hold a parade in which everyone wears goggles and carries a sun lamp.)
France places second, with 30 vacation days and 10 public holidays. This is, of course, no big surprise, given that we've all at least heard that France shuts down in August when toute le monde hops into their Citroen and heads someplace else. And, all the antipathy we hear towards France aside, is there anyone who has spent more than a nano-second there who hasn't said to themselves, "These people sure know how to live."
Israel (24 vacation days, 16 public holidays) ties with France for second place. And who can blame the Israel government if they mandate a hefty vacation schedule. The alternative would have to be lots of Israelis calling in for all sorts of mental health days, given the tension that the country lives under so much of the time.
In addition to skimpy vacation days, the U.S. is not great on public holidays, either. Our 10 public holidays is at the lower end of the ranking, although a few countries do trail us (the U.K., Ireland, Vietnam, and the UAE - but they get 30 vacation days which, of course, they can well afford).
The grand champeens for public holidays are Morocco and India with 19 each.
I just don't get it.
Just think about it for a minute.
They don't celebrate the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, or President's Day. How can they possibly have so many public holidays?
Many people in the U.S., of course, don't take off all the vacation days they do get. When I worked full time, I always liked to enter a new year with at least 5 carryover days in the bank. As often as not, I had more than that, and would get sulky if the accountants decreed a use it or lose it policy, forcing everyone to take those blissful clean-out-your-files-and-answer-all-your-emails days between Christmas and New Years.
And many people, are "always on", staying connected during vacations: answering emails, calling into meetings, and generally being available. I've done it a few times, but have always tried to limit it. I really am a big believer in taking a vacation and leaving the office worries behind. And, let's face it, how all-fired important is what most of us do for a living that we need to be available 24/7, 365 days a year. We're not machines. None of us should have to guarantee 99.9999% uptime.
People really do need getaways and, however wonderful it is when people so love their work that they can't live without it, you're really not doing your family or friends a favor when the entire vacation has to work around your need to be in touch continuously. Emergencies are one thing, as is staying in light touch (once a day check in if you're too neurotic to let things go). Other than that - and, of course, blogging, which never takes a holiday - vacations should be sacred ground.
A note of thanks to my husband for alerting me to the CNN article on vacations.