September 4th, 2011
02:05 PM ET

Hey, America: Take a vacation!

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

These are the dog days of summer, and in this hot, sweltering weather most Americans are busy working. (I know, I know, not you folks in the Hamptons.) Meanwhile, most Europeans are busy vacationing. Thus it has ever been - only it's getting worse.

Nowadays the average European gets about three times as many days of paid vacation as his counterpart in America.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

The conventional answer is that this attitude toward work makes the American economy the envy of the world. America has a hectic, turbo-charged system that builds, destroys and rebuilds, all at warp speed. It's what created the information revolution, Silicon Valley, hedge funds, biotechnology, nanotechnology and so on. And there's no time in it for lolling on the beach!

In fact, it's not clear at all that working for a few extra weeks in the summer is what makes a nation's economy hum. The consulting firm Ipsos gives us numbers on the percentage of paid vacation days that were used up by the end of the year. The French predictably lead the pack, taking 89% of their vacations days. But Germany, which is growing briskly, takes 75%. Indonesia, which has been booming, takes 70%. And the U.S. - just 57% - and it has fewer paid vacation days than almost all major countries. But even with those 13 days off, only 57 percent of Americans take them all. To remind you again, 89% of the French use all of their days off.

If you're worried that working less will mean America lags behind: Don't worry. America's growth historically has been fueled mostly by investment, education, productivity, innovation and immigration. The one thing that doesn't seem to have anything to do with America's new growth is a brutal work schedule. After all, we were working hard during the slow years of the 1970s as well.

In fact, some experts believe that working harder might actually depress productivity numbers because the additional hours worked rarely generate strong output. (We're not as productive at 8 p.m. as at 9 a.m.)

So take a break, go to the beach, read a book, watch TV or surf the web. Wait a minute, you are surfing the web - so well done.

For more of my thoughts throughout the week, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and to visit the Global Public Square every day. Also, for more of my takes, click here.

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Topics: Business • Culture • Economy • Europe • Fareed's Take • Global • Internet • Trends • United States

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  7. Peter E. Morgan

    Reblogged this on Briskin, Cross & Sanford – Business Law Blog and commented:
    One of my international clients recently asked me to draft an employment agreement for one of his US companies. "How much paid vacation time do I have to give my employees?" he asked. Surprisingly, the answer is none. The US is actually the only advanced nation with no law requiring a certain amount of paid vacation, or any vacation at all, in fact. Countries with the highest number of days off include Austria and portugal (both with 35), Germany (34), and, of course, France (31). USA Dtoday http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/06/08/countries-most-vacation-days/2400193/. Of course, just because one is allowed all those days, this does not mean that one has to take them. However, in the US where the typical private sector employee gets 16 paid vacation days and holidays (although it must be said that fully a quarter of Americans get no paid holiday at all), only 57% of workers take their full allotment, whereas in France 89% of workers use every day allotted! As CNN's Fareed Zakaria says, "Hey America: Take a Vacation!"

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  9. Eddie Fonseca

    Madonna who wrote the song Holiday about twenty years ago was right we as American's need more vacation time, because we are the hardest workers in the world as we sacrifice lot's of family time which is not right because our young children become adults right before our eyes and wonder where the good old family time went. We should be like most European countries and have at least four week vacations, in the summertime and just like Cliff Richard the famous UK singer who sang Summer Holiday we should relax in café with nice hot cup of coffee and read our favorite books and forget about work until it's time to return to the grind of our jobs again. So as Americans we so enjoy the idea of relaxing on the warm beach's of San Diego and San Jose, our taking a great family vacation to Disneyland or Disneyworld on that first family vacation trip that everyone will remember for a long time. Vacations should be our time in this great nation where we can share a few drinks on the warm beach's, and to share some great family memoires, without making vacation time's longer in America will be the only nation that money rules our lives or can we learn to balance free time and making a living to pay our bills for years to come.

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