Category Archives: Work

Too busy for vacation

I wish I was at the office.

I wish I was at the office.

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.


Filed under Holiday, Work


Every minute counts.

Every minute counts.

I always considered myself to be a punctual person. I’ve never missed a deadline in my life, and I normally show up on time. Well, at least I thought I did. But recently I’ve been realizing that perhaps my years spent living in Africa have altered my definition of what “on time” means.

The other day I attend a meeting that was scheduled for 10am. Or should I say, 10:00am. Because minutes matter. I showed up at 10:02, expecting to be the first one there. Instead, I was the last one there. Everyone was already seated and ready to go, and the meeting started immediately after I walked in.

Since then, I’ve adjusted my behavior: rather than leave my desk at the time the meeting is scheduled for, I start gearing up for the meeting when Outlook gives me the 5 minute advance reminder. Apparently in America, a 10am meeting means that the meeting starts at 10am, not that you show up at 10am.

Contrast that to Liberia, where a 10am meeting means that the foreign consultants show up at 10ish (or perhaps 10am sharp, if they just recently arrived and don’t know any better), the Liberian counterparts show up at 10:15ish, then everybody waits around a long time until the Minister (or other senior person) shows up at 10:30ish, and finally the meeting starts at 10:45ish after a bit of chit chat. Showing up “on time” often meant nothing more than wasting your time.

As for punctuality in Somaliland, I felt that the lateness units were more often days than hours. At the university where I worked, on the day semester was supposed to start, no students would show up for the first class. But, the following day, and the day after, they started trickling in. What’s a minute or two here, a day or two there really?


Filed under Work