America: The Vacation-less Nation

by Staff - Original publish date: August 28, 2012

Summer is on its way out. School is starting and fall is looming. But at least you got a nice relaxing vacation before your life kicks back into high gear.

Wait, what's that you say? You didn't get a vacation? Too much work to be done? You're not alone.

Depending on how you look at the numbers, Americans are some of the world's most industrious and dedicated workers, or we are profoundly overworked, our stress-fried brains in desperate need of some time away from the cubicle. Or maybe it's both.

There's no doubt that American workers put in their hours: 1,741 per year, on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the 20 countries included in the analysis, only five – Singapore, Korea, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Japan – worked more annual hours.

And we are productive with our hours. In 2010, the United States has the second highest gross domestic product per hour worked, according to the BLS numbers; only Norway was higher.

But if there's one work task we are not so good at, it is taking time off. A poll by Harris Interactive over the past year have found that 57 percent of American workers had at least two weeks of unused vacation time at the end of 2011. Another recent Harris poll reported that more than half of those who were planning to vacation were still expecting to work at least some during their "time off."

Why are we like this? Why are we, on average, so reluctant to turn off the cell phone and head to the beach? It is at least partially cultural; the United States just doesn't put the same premium on vacation time that other countries do.

In France, the law requires workers to receive 30 days of paid leave each year, according to an analysis of numbers from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Finland, Norway, and Sweden give their workers 25 days of mandated annual leave.

The United States, on the other hand, has no paid leave requirements. Employers, of course, often provide paid vacation days and holidays as part of a benefits package. American workers got an average of 8 paid holidays last year, according to the BLS, and 10 paid vacation days.

To have a shot at getting as many vacation days as are legally required in most other industrialized nations, an American worker would have to remain with the same employer for 20 years, according to BLS numbers.

But if we're working hard and getting results, why should we care about our lack of vacations? Studies suggest vacationing offers a range of benefits, from better health and lower stress to improved workplace relationships and productivity.

Convinced? It's not too late to plan a getaway for the winter. I hear Hawaii is lovely that time of year.