Does America believe in Vacation?

It doesn’t seem like it, does it?

laptop beach-guy

your vacation?

Even with all the cheap tickets to Europe out there, the typical American worker gets two or three weeks off plus national holidays out of 365 days to reboot the system. Wow. That’s seriously not enough, is it?

And some employees are asked to take their phones with them, which means they’re expected to maintain regular email contact, which is also pretty sad.  In fact it’s estimated that only 57% of U.S. workers use up all of the days they’re entitled to, compared with 89% of workers in France, a recent Reuters poll found.

This is not how the other half lives.


yep, they're naked, care-free Germans on a long, long holiday

On average Germans get six weeks of paid vacation a year, plus national holidays. And their bosses insist upon it. In August when the country “closes down” (When does America ever close down?) most people take their 3 weeks to really take a break from it all.

It’s the law

Germany is among more than two dozen industrialized countries that require employers to offer four weeks or more of paid vacation to their workers, according to a 2009 study by the human resources consulting company Mercer.

Finland, Brazil and France are the champs, guaranteeing six weeks of time off. Six weeks!!!!

copacabana brazil

brazilians get a lot of holiday time

But because there is no law here in the U.S, employers do not have to offer any paid vacation, which means that about a quarter of all American workers don’t have any vacation at all.

That makes the U.S. the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers annual leave, according to a report titled “No-Vacation Nation” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Most U.S. companies, of course, do provide some vacation as a way to attract and retain workers.

But Americans are so afraid to lose their jobs, to fall behind, they are reluctant to be absent from the office for fear that something might happen when they’re gone.

Then, there’s this weird fact that apparently we actually get happy from work. Yeah, strange, right?


boy, does she look happy!

According to a study published recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies, working more makes Americans happier than Europeans because according to the author of the study, Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, Americans believe more than Europeans do that hard work is associated with success.

“Americans maximize their… happiness by working, and Europeans maximize it through leisure,” he found.

So despite research documenting the health and productivity benefits of taking time off, a long vacation can be undesirable, scary, unrealistic or just plain impossible for many U.S. workers.


that's right baby, we like work more than play

Americans are anti-regulation

Critics say it’s time for a change:

“There is simply no evidence that working people to death gives you a competitive advantage,” said John de Graaf, the national coordinator for Take Back Your Time, a group that researches the effects of overwork.

He noted that the United States came in fourth in the World Economic Forum’s 2010-2011 rankings of the most competitive economies, but Sweden — a country that by law offers workers five weeks of paid vacation — came in second.

swedish model on vacation

swedish model on, yep, you guessed it, vacation

But opponents said that it would have a negative impact on business and that the government shouldn’t get involved in the workplace in this way. They think we’ll become like France.

“You would have had the idea that we were calling for the end of Western civilization. Comments like, ‘Oh, they’re going to make America a 21st-century France,’ as if we were all going to have to eat snails,” de Graaf said.

But all studies show that traveling really is good for the brain

People have epiphanies when they travel. They fall in love with life again. They reconnect with the bounty of it.


feel that? your brain is waking up.

If you’re lucky enough to leave the country this summer, to see Paris, London, Madrid, Rio, and there are so many cheap tickets to Europe and Asia, it’s crazy, there’s scientific evidence that it could help you with creative thinking.

Galinsky’s research with William Maddux, a professor at the business school INSEAD, has found that traveling abroad makes people have a more nuanced understanding of themselves, and a better sense of who they are. It builds compassion.


seeing borobudur in person is like electric shock treatment

But if you work for a company that does not take vacation time seriously, then consider one of these companies that do. Check out how some companies value their employees.


Days off/year: 15-25 days

The days on are pretty great here too. The company offers everything from free meals to an on-site doctor at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Employees at Google get 15 vacation days during their first year at the company, 20 days off after four years, and 25 days after six years. Googlers also get all of the sick days they need and 12 paid holidays.

Google also has a “20% time” program that encourages employees to use a fifth of their paid work hours for activities outside of their primary duties, which can include anything from volunteering with other Google workers to organizing an on-campus event.

Days off/year: Up to five weeks
The best thing about Intuit’s vacation policy is its flexibility. Full-time employees at the software company qualify for up to five weeks of vacation time, depending on the length of their tenure.

Employees can opt to save up to two years worth of vacation days and take it all at once, so an Intuit employee who earns four weeks of vacation per year can take two paid months off in one fell swoop. Intuit staff members are also eligible to receive 32 hours of paid time off to spend volunteering, which they’re allowed to tack on to their regular vacation time.

Days off/year: 15-20 days

Now this is good. In 2007, the company established a vacation time bank, which allows its staff to deposit unused personal days, sick leave, or time off and make those days available to other employees.

St. Jude employees who have used up their own days off because of unexpected emergencies can apply to the bank to receive additional paid vacation days. Since the program began, St. Jude employees have donated over 3,500 days of paid time off.

The company also offers 15 days off per year for employees who have been working for the company for less than 10 years and 20 days off for people who have been at the company for 10 years or longer.

St Jude also offers long leaves of absence. Employees can take up to a 12-week leave of absence for every 12 years they have worked at the company.

Days off/year: 3-4 weeks

For every seven years Intel employees work at the company, they are rewarded with a two-month sabbatical. Intel’s employees who go on sabbatical can take the time off and have some peace of mind because their paychecks keep coming and their standard benefits package stays intact.

Intel employees on sabbatical are encouraged not to check in with work in hopes that they will return to work recharged. Those who qualify for the sabbatical are still entitled to their allotment of regular paid vacation time, which is four weeks per year after an employee has passed his or her four-year mark at the company. Intel employees who have worked at the company between one and three years receive three weeks of vacation.

Days off/year: Untracked

One novel approach to vacation policy is to do away with it altogether. About a year ago, software company HubSpot stopped tracking its employees’ vacation days or sick days.

HubSpot’s chief marketing officer Mike Volpe says that the company’s approach to vacation stems from a time when HubSpot employees were plugging away on projects from outside the office and devoting their nights and weekends to work. The company’s management team figured that since employees weren’t getting paid extra for the additional hours they were working, they shouldn’t be monitored closely when they needed to take time away from the job.

HubSpot is among several companies that have stopped counting vacation days. Other big-name companies that have implemented similar policies include IBM, Best Buy and Netflix. “We’re still really happy with the policy,” Volpe says. “It is working great. There is less administrative overhead, employees are free to take the time they need, and it is a great tool for recruiting new employees.”

Days off/year: Untracked

Morningstar has not tracked employees’ vacation time since the company was founded 17 years ago. The flexible policy places the onus on employees to prioritize their time to get their work done how they see fit.

A Morningstar representative says that employees generally end up taking around two to three weeks of vacation every year, but some staffers have been known to take up to six weeks of vacation per year if they can work efficiently the rest of the time.

Morningstar also claims that its flexible vacation policy relieves work-related stress surrounding last-minute issues such as leaving early for a children’s soccer game or for a dentist appointment.

Employees who stay with Morningstar for at least four years have the opportunity to take a six-week paid sabbatical.

Days off/year: 3-5 weeks

Employees at energy company EOG Resources likely work just as many hours as the average American worker, but the company has structured its work week so that it feels shorter. EOG staffers have the option to work flexible hours, starting the day at anytime between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. and finishing anytime between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

EOG employees can also choose to work a compressed week: 8.5-hour days Monday through Thursday, and then a six-hour day on Friday. EOG employees still end up working 40 hours per week, but they get a jump on the weekend.

Employees receive between three to five weeks of vacation, an allotment based on a combination of the employee’s years in the industry and tenure at the company. This way, newcomers to EOG who have experience in the industry don’t have to start from scratch with their vacation time when they begin at EOG.

Days off/year: 4-5 weeks

Like Google, SAS is known for its impressive employee perks. The software company offers unlimited sick leave for employees and family members. And all employees are eligible for three weeks of vacation and one week between Christmas and New Years when the company’s offices are closed. Employees who have been at SAS for 10 years qualify for an extra week off, coming to a total of five weeks of annual vacation time.

So it seems to be that awareness of our needs is on the rise. Particularly with forward thinking companies that value your brain. So all of you out there need to start valuing yourselves more, because only then will they value you. And nothing makes a person feel better than a long relaxing vacation with no gadgets.

FYI: That’s the definition of hell for my blackberry-addicted husband

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