Why is America the 'no-vacation nation'?
Thinking of getting away? You probably have much less vacation than workers in other parts of the world.
May 23rd, 2011
05:08 PM ET

Why is America the 'no-vacation nation'?

By A. Pawlowski, CNN

Let's be blunt: If you like to take lots of vacation, the United States is not the place to work.

Besides a handful of national holidays, the typical American worker bee gets two or three precious weeks off out of a whole year to relax and see the world - much less than what people in many other countries receive.

And even that amount of vacation often comes with strings attached....

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/Ipsos poll found....

So what's going on here?

A big reason for the difference is that paid time off is mandated by law in many parts of the world.

Germany is among more than two dozen industrialized countries - from Australia to Slovenia to Japan - 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.

But employers in the United States are not obligated under federal law to offer any paid vacation, so about a quarter of all American workers don't have access to it, government figures show.

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, a liberal policy group.

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

But the fear of layoffs and the ever-faster pace of work mean many Americans are reluctant to be absent from the office - anxious that they might look like they're not committed to their job. Or they worry they won't be able to cope with the backlog of work waiting for them after a vacation.

Then, there's the way we work.

Working more makes Americans happier than Europeans, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies. That may be because Americans believe more than Europeans do that hard work is associated with success, wrote Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, the study's author and an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

"Americans maximize their... [happiness] by working, and Europeans maximize their [happiness] 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.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Topics: Culture • Europe • United States

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soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. RAJ

    Vacation is good for family bonding. Good for the brain because it is working under lots of stress, frictions, conflicts. Family of USA are move self-centered, more busy in there work and less sensitive towards there other faily members. Family bonding is right healthy foundation for any family and vacation provide that time to the family.

    May 23, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  2. leeintulsa

    Color me 'wanting more vacation'. Actually, a steady job is good for now..

    May 23, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  3. Michelle G

    At my last job, I had a week of paid vacation but didn't take it because taking a day off was so much extra work and stress that it wasn't even worth it.

    May 24, 2011 at 12:00 am | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    The corporate culture in America could have an impact on the collective identity that you are what what your company stands for. Every company would like to project itself as service-orientated and round the clock available. Besides it is a common belief that success is a fruit of hard work in order to to fulfill the American Dream. While here in Europe employees in general know they will get paid for just what they are assigned to do. There is no incentive to perform more, unless you are ambitious, which attracts you more animosity than sympathy.

    May 24, 2011 at 4:04 am | Reply
  5. Antonio M

    Americans don't know what they are missing...

    May 24, 2011 at 8:23 am | Reply
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      February 12, 2012 at 2:48 am | Reply
  6. mr774

    I am a Japanese.
    So I can read article above by changing the word U.S. to Japan.

    May 24, 2011 at 8:41 am | Reply
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      February 11, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Reply
  7. Truth Hurts

    I work for the government here in the US and there are ways around the system. We do get about 2 weeks paid (holiday vacation) per year, we also recieve 2 weeks of (paid)sick leave if we use it per year, we get another two weeks (but unpaid) vacation per year, and in my agency we currently have the option(s) to work 4 10-hr days or 5 8-hr days. I chose the 4 10hr work days, which gives me an additional 48 days (6-weeks) off per year. I love my job, and could not see it any other way, its not stressful (at all) and I don't have to check my emails or calls when I'm out. However, I will say that jobs (hours, days-off, lifestyles) do vary here in America so just keep that in mind.

    May 24, 2011 at 9:11 am | Reply
    • Truth Hurts

      Oh and I didnt include the fact that I have all saturdays & sundays off too. So in actuality, I have 186 days off per year in the USA which is more time off than Europeans. Doesn't sound too bad now in comparison.

      May 24, 2011 at 11:00 am | Reply
  8. Harrison Jeffries

    Irresponsible Journalism

    May 24, 2011 at 9:42 am | Reply
  9. Harrison Jeffries

    Am I the only one who thinks CNN.com journalist A. Pawlowski really does a disservice to us as readers in this article? Bear with me here and look deeper into the data, which reveals that us "overworked" Americans really only work ~5% more than our Euro counterparts:

    ASSUME THE FOLLOWING DATA FOR BOTH US AND EURO WORKERS: 52 Saturdays + 52 Sundays + 10 National Holidays + 4 'sick' days + 2 'personal' days = 120 'non-vacation' days off

    WHAT % OF DAYS PER YEAR DO AMERICANS WORK: 120 'non-vacation' days off + (10 to 15 vacation days) = ~132 total days off / 365 total days in a year = 132/365 = 36% of days 'off' or 64% days worked.

    WHAT % OF DAYS PER YEAR DO EUROS WORK: 120 'non-vacation' days off + (6 weeks vacation or 30 days) = ~150 total days off / 365 total days in a year = 150/365 = 41% of days 'off' or 59% days worked.

    IN CONCLUSION: American's work 64% of the days in a year, while Europeans work 59%. Does this 5% difference REALLY warrant an article?

    If individual companies do not grant as much time off as one would like, I suggest making a case-by-case argument. But please don't degrade our entire great nation with misleading and selective information. I hate coming off as paranoid, but this is a perfect example of the irresponsible journalism that is tearing this country apart.

    Shame on you Mr. Pawlowski.

    May 24, 2011 at 10:02 am | Reply
    • Michael B

      Why are you looking at this in terms of percentage, and not days? One day off obviously is considerably less than 1% of the year, but even that one extra off-day can help you recharge and release stress. You also did way too much work to discredit this article considering the absolute zero good it will do you in the end.

      May 24, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Reply
      • Harrison Jeffries

        "You also did way too much work to discredit this article considering the absolute zero good it will do you in the end."

        So much wrong with this statement Mike. It took me 7 minutes to write that comment - and I wrote it bc I feel the article is a tad overdone and misleading. Responding to the other half of your comment: I used percentages bc I feel it paints a clearer picture of the 'real' amount of time that Americans work more than our Euro counterparts. Simply saying that Euros receive "two to three times as much vacation" makes it seems like we as Americans are working 2-3x as much, which simply isn't true.

        May 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
      • Harrison Jeffries

        Also, what good does feeling sorry for yourself do for YOU? Our country was built on the shoulders of men/women of ACTION, not complainers.

        May 25, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • pn

      It's not that easy to use 2 or 3 weekends for a family trip.

      May 24, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Reply
    • Paul

      Yes but that doesn't address the point that you don't get time for holiday trips i.e. break from work to recharge batteries. I see it like this. If you increased the US employee's allocation to 4 weeks instead of 2, say, this loses the employer only about 4% oif the employee's prodcutivity. In exchange for that 4% lost in days the employee doubles the amount of conditioning benefit that decent length holidays provide. This makes the employee better able to do his job, at least to an extent of 4% better I would argue, hence it would be a win-win situation. Obviously, this trade-off breaks down when you get to the French model jsut due to the maths.

      May 25, 2011 at 4:41 am | Reply
      • Harrison Jeffries

        Paul: I really like your response. I actually read an interesting article claiming that giving employees 'unlimited' vacation days resulted in increased productivity (not sure how they measured 'productivity' though).

        I would love to see more research on either subject.

        May 25, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • TheDood

      And where does all this "data" of yours come from? How many working americans who are paid a salary based on 40/hour work week actually work only 40 hours? Of those who work in excess of 50 or 60 hours per week, how many receive compensation? How many get weekends to spend with their families? How many get a 2 week vacation with NO laptop or cell phone? I've worked for several companys where overtime pay is not paid, instead, you're told that you can accumulate / bank days off based on the extra time you work. In the end, its always the same everywhere – there is NEVER a convenient time for you a day off, so the company pockets all your extra production.

      May 25, 2011 at 5:31 am | Reply
      • European transplant

        It is so true what TheDood said. In US you get to work 50-80 hours week when paid only 40 and the 2 or 3 weeks vacation you cannot take them when you want them but rather you need approval from your management and you may end up splitting your vacation time in 1 -2 week slots and then you're expected to be on call and work if needed. So where is the weekend time off ? where is the entire vacation time off ? In some European countries and European lead companies (not US lead companies) time off is an employee right that can be taken anytime and will not be shared/used for company needs/overtime work.. which if and when occurs European companies do pay for overtime. To say that Americans enjoy work more than vacation is a misstatement. Americans need to work more to pay for their excessive needs (huge debts, and keeping up with Kardashians) so they have to work not because they like it. Europeans on the other side, they're satisfied with less and live to enjoy life, family time and vacations.

        October 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  10. 81Austria

    I'm Austrian living in Germany and i can take up to 6 weeks paid leave plus national and church holidays. Plus I can be sick up to 42 days and still get 100% of my payment. After that i'll get 75% which is still a lot. Souds great, doesn't it? But don't forget how much taxes we pay. Up to 47% of our mounthly income depending how much we earn. It covers health, unemployment, retirement and social insurance. For all Mums and Dads there is a special deal: one of them can stay home for up to 12 months and get 80% of the last income. After that year you can stay home for another 2 years not getting paid but your job will be guarenteed. (Total job guarentee for 3 years.) Plus the gouverment pays you 184 EUR each month for your kid up to the age of 25.
    So why exactly does the US not want to change the social system???

    May 25, 2011 at 7:08 am | Reply
    • DowntownDude

      Because corporations told us that our unemployment rate would double if we did anything but while away our lives improving their bottom lines.

      May 25, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  11. mr774

    Why is Japan the 'no-vacation nation'?
    I'd like to say so.

    May 27, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  12. madam888

    I am from British Columbia,Canada and am hugely appreciative of the 33 yrs that I have been with my company. I work full time Mon-Fri, no weekends, all stat holidays are paid for, receive 8 weeks paid vacation annually, allowance of 6 paid sick days annually, 10 paid sick days for children annually, and other special leave days that are paid for include moving days, funeral days, household emergency days, wedding day, child adoption day, exam writing days, time off for jury duty days. I also work an extra half hour every day so that I can have every 3rd Friday off (paid). If I exceed my 6 annual sick days, the remainder paid sick days decreases to 75% of my regular salary. It makes it difficult to leave the company but my retirement is coming up in two years.........

    May 30, 2011 at 12:25 am | Reply
  13. shas

    I am just surprised at the opposition on the article. Mr. Pawlowski just expressed that more vacation will be more helpful to a nation with the work force getting back more rejuvenated and leading to increased productivity. Yes there will be two sides of the coin on this debatable topic also.

    5% time on grand scheme of things is approximately someone in EURP taking twice the vacation time than in US.

    Thank you

    June 5, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  14. Mike

    Upper management pressure plays a big role. To impress the boss, some people work part of Saturday to show how busy they and how committed they are to their job. If your boss needs to work on Saturday, I guess I better look like I need to work Saturdays, too. Pretty soon everyone is trying to impress everyone else, even though they really don't need to take the time off. Some people impress their boss working weekends and then regret that they missed a lot of their kids childhood. Which is more important? Family or job? I take all the vacation I am given.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  15. Aba Bab

    Go back to school Harrison Jeffries
    Very sloppy arithmetic, try the following instead.

    difference between 132 vs 150 is (150-132)/132 x 100 = aprrox 14%.more holidays than the Yankees – from the non-Yankee pov. OR (150-132)/150 = 12% Yankees are worse off by, from Yankee pov.

    In terms of days worked: If you do it in percentages its 59% vs 64%, therefore (64%-59%)/59% – approx 8.5% due to rounding of the %, works the same with days worked instead, ie (233-215) /215 = approx 8.4% more work, yankee pov in most instances..

    June 15, 2011 at 4:31 am | Reply
  16. K

    ""Americans maximize their... [happiness] by working, and Europeans maximize their [happiness] through leisure," he found." – this is the biggest bunch of propaganda i have ever read.

    June 23, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Reply
  17. European transplant

    In US you get to work 50-80 hours week when paid only 40 and the 2 or 3 weeks vacation you cannot take them when you want them but rather you need approval from your management and you may end up splitting your vacation time in 1 -2 week slots and then you're expected to be on call and work if needed. So where is the weekend time off ? where is the entire vacation time off ? In some European countries and European lead companies (not US lead companies) time off is an employee right that can be taken anytime and will not be shared/used for company needs/overtime work.. which if and when occurs European companies do pay for overtime. To say that Americans enjoy work more than vacation is a misstatement. Americans need to work more to pay for their excessive needs (huge debts, and keeping up with Kardashians) so they have to work not because they like it. Europeans on the other side, they're satisfied with less and live to enjoy life, family time and vacations.

    October 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  18. emerson

    I DONT UNDERSTAND......I DONT UNDERSTAND.........

    April 27, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Reply

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