Do Americans work hard, or work scared?
The first day of summer always presents a good opportunity to reflect on whether employees are taking enough vacation time and, as such, recharging their batteries to a point where they are on track for becoming healthier, happier and more productive. It’s also worth revisiting a familiar U.S. public-policy debate on the link between paid time off and worker engagement, productivity and performance relative to other nations, especially during austere times when stress is heightened.
It may not be so surprising to imagine that working Americans spend nearly 500 more hours a year on the job than their French counterparts, 260 more hours than the British and 137 more hours than the Japanese, according to a recent report attributed to the International Labor Organization. Americans also reportedly average just 13 days off a year compared with 30 paid vacation days in France and Finland.
Many U.S. workers may lament or even mock these cold, hard facts, but others make no apologies for our Puritanical work ethic, which they point out results in a competitive leg up on the world stage.
I started seriously pondering the socio-economic implications of this issue while viewing an episode of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” which aired on June 15.
“American workers must get at least as much paid vacation as the Chinese slaves who make their iPhones,” sniffed the rubber-faced host. “Did you know that 138 nations mandate vacation time by law? But one of them isn’t the Republic of Here. In England, you get 28 paid vacation days a year; in Switzerland you get 20; in Sweden you get 25; in Greece you get infinity.”
Soon after, Maher cracked a rather funny (and some would say spot on) joke about how Canadians, Germans or Japanese are usually the ones visiting U.S. national parks because they have far more time to do it than us. On the flip side, Maher also quipped that most Americans get just two weeks of vacation each year that they’re too afraid to take for fear that their job won’t be there when they return.
“Our politicians love to brag, ‘The American worker is the most productive worker in the world,’” he continued. “Yeah, because they work scared. That’s why a majority don’t even take a few of the vacation days they get because you don’t want to seem less valuable to your boss — especially since we live in the only big-boy country where losing your job also means losing your health care. And then you won’t be able to get the Prozac that helps you forget how depressed you are about having no free time.”
Amid the online firestorm of reaction to his comments, one of Maher’s detractors wrote, “Americans’ hard work and ingenuity has brought about more inventions in the last century than all of Europe’s in their thousands of centuries! Europeans, who enjoy so much free time are going to get a lot more of it as their economies collapse. Hopefully this is not an area where we become more like them.”
What do you think? Do Americans have too little vacation time, too much or just enough? Regardless of the vacation time American workers receive, how does U.S. culture — positively and negatively — affect how they use their time off? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Guest blogger Bruce Shutan, a former EBN managing editor, is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.