It’s Thanksgiving day and I’m on vacation right now. As you read this, I am either on a beach, on a mountain, or in a bar. Or possibly still in bed. Why, then, am I writing a blog post, you ask? Well, I’m not. I actually wrote this blog post last week, before leaving on vacation, and just scheduled it to be published in the future (a nifty feature of WordPress).
And why would I do that, you ask? Well, because I don’t particularly fancy being behind my computer while on vacation, or doing anything that remotely resembles “work.” Blogging is, in fact, my hobby; it qualifies more as fun than work. Nonetheless, spending time at my computer is not my idea of a holiday. And I am most certainly not going to do any work work while away; I won’t even read my work emails, less do anything about them.
I’ve come to realize this is not an attitude shared by most Americans. Everyone talks all the time about having to do work on the holidays (or over the weekend for that matter). It seems a matter of course, even expected, that people will check (and respond to) their work emails while they are on “vacation.” When someone comes back from a few days out of the office and you ask them how their break was, it’s not uncommon to hear them say “Well, it wasn’t much of a break…” Or before a holiday, when you ask people what they have planned, they might say “Trying not to work on the holiday…”
What’s up with that?! Americans have less vacation time than any other developed country in the world. Indeed, the US has no statutory minimum employment leave (even China has a minimum of 5 days). Compare this to the UK, where employers are required by law to give their employees 20 days (4 weeks) of holiday (in addition to the 8 bank holidays). The Netherlands also mandates a minimum of 20 days. And in France, workers enjoy a whopping 30 days (6 weeks) off each year.
In the US, meanwhile, employers are left to decide for themselves how many vacation days they want to give to their employees, and most times they give only 2 weeks (!). If you’re lucky (like me), you get 3 weeks. It’s exceptional in the US, in the private sector at least, to have even 4 weeks vacation. So essentially, the best deal in the US is… the bare legal minimum in Europe.
And the worst part about it is that oftentimes “vacation” days actually mean “Personal Time Off” (PTO), which comprises any day you are not in the office, whatever the reason. Fall sick with the flu and need to spend the week in bed? Well, there went a week of your “vacation” down the drain. Compare this to the UK, where if you’re sick, you just phone in sick and don’t come into work. Nobody is counting or limiting your sick days for routine short-term illnesses (if employees are off sick for more than 7 days in a row, then they need to provide a note from the doctor).
So, let that sink in. Of the 52 weeks in the year, Brits are not working for 4 of those weeks, a little less than 8% of the time; the other 92% of the time, they are working (assuming no sick days). The French, meanwhile, are on holiday 11.5% of the year and working 88.5% of the time. Miraculously, the economies of Britain and France still appear to be functioning, despite this excessive laziness on the part of Europeans (read: sarcasm).
And then there’s the poor Americans, with their paltry 2 weeks vacation. They are working 96% of the year. And then for the 4% of the time that remains – the 4% of their wage labor life that truly belongs to them and no one else – they “try not to work.” I do not understand.