Many Americans are astounded to learn how much vacation time Europeans and workers in other developed nations get. Are these stories true or do we just hear about a few lucky outliers? No, the stories are mostly are true. In a 2017 report in Time magazine – The Real Reason the French Work Less Than Americans Do – noted that:

For instance, in 2015, the French worked an average of 1,482 hours a year, while American workers worked about 1,790 hours, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Meanwhile, U.S. workers—who receive about 15 days off per year—also get less vacation time than their European counterparts, who get about 30, according to a 2015 survey from What’s more, while American employees take about 73% of their allotted vacation time, German and French workers take nearly all of the vacation time they’re allowed.

A 2016 article in Fast Company looked at how U.S. Employee Benefits Compare To Europe’s. It showed that not only is vacation time more generous, but a benchmark of various types of leave (holidays, sick leave, parental leave, etc) show that time-away-from-work benefits of all types are significantly more generous:

And it’s not just that American vacation benefits lag most developed nations. It’s somewhat understandable that employers would try to limit employee days off. What’s more surprising is that employees themselves persist in leaving much of their vacation time unused. A recent survey by Kimble Applications found that 21% of surveyed employees left vacation days on the table. But this is even more surprising: the unused time wasn’t just a day here and there, it was more than 5 days. James Davis interviews Kimble Application’s Mark Robinson to discuss the findings in Welcome to the No Vacation Nation. The article also featured an infographic (below) that talks about reasons why people didn’t use their full vacation allotment.

A 2017 Glassdoor survey also looked at the puzzling reason why US workers let so much vacation tine lapse: Some 54% of employees do so because they believe they’ll be replaced.

“Why don’t they take what’s due? “Fear,” says Scott Dobroski, career trends analyst at Glassdoor. “That’s the underscoring theme.” They fear getting behind on their work (34%), believe no one else at their company can do the work while they’re out (30%), they are completely dedicated to their company (22%), and they feel they can never be disconnected (21%). As workers shoulder a heavier work-load post-recession, he says others are afraid of not meeting goals.”

That’s a shame. Taking time away from work can replenish and reinvigorate workers, reduce stress and protect health. It is one of the healthiest things people can do to take care of themselves! But Millennials and Gen X workers seem to place a higher value on work / life balance than their older colleagues. It will be interesting to see if this metric changes over time.


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