Americans have the least vacation in the developed world.

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Ugh. What a long Monday. Worked on Saturday too. And it’s not just me. the average middle income family now works four months more in total hours than they did in 1979. Some 80% of men and 62% of women work more than 40 hours a week, and almost 40% of Americans now work more than 50 hours a week.*

According to this website, the French have an average of 25 paid vacation days a year, while the Germans get 30 days. Even the Japanese get 18 days. The U.S.? An average of 12 days. Me? 10 days. Bummer. I love how they call it “two weeks”. To me, two weeks = 14 days!

Italians have it the best, with 42 days of vacation a year. 42 days?! In “corporate speak”, that’s 2 months! I’ve got one of my precious weeks coming up soon, and I am so ready for it. I seriously cannot point out one memorable thing I did since New Year’s. Besides maybe seeing this blog mentioned on TV… and the move, I suppose. But even that is a blur. is trying to change that, partially by advocating a law requiring a minimum of 3 weeks paid leave for all full-time workers, and no retaliation for actually using your vacation. My company doesn’t try to discourage taking vacation, but I guess some do, as twenty-six percent of Americans take no vacation at all.*

?From a European point of view it?s unbelievable how docilely we accept the shortest vacations in the rich world,? says Rick Steves, who’s travel books showed me around Europe in my pre-working-stiff days. And I agree. In fact, I would even take an unpaid week off every year if I was allowed. Or two. We really must be stuck in the Rat Race. I think that having more vacation would actually work out overall, as people would be less stressed and waste less time at work playing FreeCell (you know who you are!) as they can actually look forward to real time off to actually forget about work. 3-day weekends don’t cut it! Why are there no votes on this type of thing…

*Stats from various sources listed here.

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  1. When I first started and found out I was getting three weeks, I was ecstatic. Then I discovered there’s a Christmas shutdown that required the use of two or three days (still, I was ecstatic). Then… I found out all the federal holidays I didn’t get off (I work for a defense contractor!) and then I realized I really only had two weeks (haha, 10 days) off. I’m such a sucker.

  2. I have always been one to use *all* of my vacation — and use it wisely.

    That being said. . … There is a cost to all that vacation that the Europeans get, and that cost goes by the names of nationwide productivity and national comparative advantage.

    Look at the GDP growth and unemployment in Germany, Spain, Italy, and France. Western Europe is the last place I would add any jobs. They are too expensive, have too many rules and regulations, and seem to be on holiday most of the time.

    I guess it is a great gig if you can get it, but I really don’t think that the Western European countries are going to sustain their standard of living with the ongoing economic globalization, and the competition that they face from Eastern Europe and Asia.

    For a first hand observation of this in progress . .. I manage global development projects with design teams all over the planet. France is getting a smaller and smaller piece of the pie as the years go by because they have held us up too many times with their en mass summer vacations, short work weeks, and transportation strikes (nobody can come to work on those days).

    That’s my two cents. By the way, I’m not against your argument about not enough vacation — but reasonably intelligent people should realize that there is a cost as well

  3. You make some good points Jake. I agree about Italy, it’s definitely on the other side of the sprectrum. I was even stuck in Genova for a couple days due to one of their bi-weekly train strikes. But I also think there can a happier compromise. Working 50+ hour weeks and still having two weeks vacation? On top of longer and longer commutes, I think that’s a bit much.

  4. Well, as an American who recently moved to the UK, I can see both sides. Better work hours and more vacation days are definitely a plus. As is not having to worry about basic health care costs, especially maternity care (even though I had excellent health care in the U.S. – but I know I was one of the lucky ones). Throw in 6 months of maternity rights, paternity rights, government supported day care, and other government benefits, european lifestyle choices seem to make life a whole lot nicer.

    I will still have a good life and make a good living. I may never be ‘wealthy’, although I do pretty well. But at the end of my life, I won’t be wishing I had spent more time at the office. I’m sure I will have much preferred to have spent it with my family and friends.

  5. Faylaricia says:

    I grew up and worked in Germany until I was 23 years old and it was really hard for me to get used to the lack of vacation days after coming here.

    Sure, from a business stand point, it appears to be less efficient and Germany has to do something about it for the future. However, from the employees’ point of view, 6 weeks vacation a year is excellent. You actually get to spend time on vacation instead of rushing through sightseeing tours. You relax a lot more. This in turn avoids burnout and from my experience, I think that employees there worked more efficient. My jobs in Germany were a lot more demanding and hectic and I had to be way more efficient. I remember when I started here, every supervisor always complimented me on my ‘drive’. i just wasn’t used to any other way. If I finished my work load, I asked around if other people needed help – which often gave me the strangest looks. There I worked (besides others) for P&G and here I work now for one of the top three leading computer companies. I have to admit that the style is a lot more relaxed, maybe that is why people still make it with only 2 weeks vacation…? In the end, I believe it all evens out. Germany’s problems are not the number of vacation days but other issues. Actually, my company here forces shutdowns in summer and on christmas to save money.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I get 4 corporate weeks per year (20 days), plus 6 sick days and 2 personal days. 28 totally discretionary days per year isn’t so bad, and I’m in the US.

  7. I receive 27 days a year,with 8 public holidays on top of that.Typically I have a week and a half at Xmas,then,by using two days off at Easter,I have almost a full week off.Usually go to southern Europe for two weeks around May/June.I’ll have about four long weekends[Thu/Fri/Sat/Sun]between June and September.Then in September/October,I’ll have a week again in southern Europe.I work a 35 hour week on a late shift[2pm.-11pm]Monday to Thursday,so I don’t work Fri/Sat/Sun.I couldn’t envisage working 40-plus hours per week,with two weeks holiday a year;I’d go completely insane..If Americans are daft enough to work the hours they do,more fool them.

  8. I get 15 days for sick and vacation. In 5 years I will get 5 more but I have never stayed anywhere for 5 years so keep having to get the entry level time off package and I’ve been working 30+ years.
    If the productivity isn’t as good in Europe as it is in America I think it’s America that should adjust. The whole world produces too much crap anyway and it’s not good for the environment. Wasn’t the promise of new technology supposed to be about labor saving? I mean labor saving for the average working joe and not labor saving for the guys at the top of the economic food chain who are sucking up the profits that increased productivity due to new technology creates. Wasn’t the 40 hour work week created for laborers who are on their feet all day? They got to go home and sit and could support a family on one income. I have to go home from the office and figure out a way to exercise and then do housework, participate as a citizen in various ways and then I maybe have 3 hours on Saturday for fun. I think the work week should be 4 days and you get to pick which 4. There should be national healthcare so employers stop sucking the life out of their employees to justify the cost of health insurance. 30 mandatory days off per year on top of that with a leave of absence every 5 years for 3-4 months. Or something like that.
    Perhaps if we want this to be a movement of sorts, we should generate a list of things we could do with that time besides chill out. (And chilling would be good for my blood pressure!) Exercise more and get rid of the obesity epidemic. Volunteer to clean up the environment. Volunteer to be a literacy coach or drive little old ladies to appointments. Revive volunteerism in the world. Spend more time with family and friends which would reduce anxiety and depression.
    I could sit here all day and list things that execessive work gets in the way of.
    By the way, on top of working 40 hours, I am too far away from home to go home for lunch so add 5. My commute is an hour and a half every day so add 7.5. That’s 52.5 hours leaving me 5.5 hours a day to clean, cook, care for my elderly mom, hang with friends and family, take care of home admin stuff, exercise, participate in my community.
    And this is a free country!!!????

  9. I lived in France where I had 7 weeks a year. I am looking into moving to the US (my wife’s from there)… I really hope to be able to manage 4 or 5 weeks of vacation time in doing w2 contracting. Is that realistic ?

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