The U.S. Lags Way Behind on Vacations
Johannes Grenzfurthner is required to take five weeks a year of paid vacation away from his position as a professor of art theory at the University of Applied Science in Graz, Austria. In February, he spent 3 ½ weeks visiting Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando. "I think if you come back from a trip, you usually have a new perspective on working," he says. "The people I work for at the university basically paid me to relax because they know that I will work better after a vacation."
But taking a monthlong vacation is almost unheard of in the United States, where most companies offer 10 paid days off, according to Hewitt Associates. In Austria, Finland, and France, the government mandates 30 days of vacation time for employees with at least one year of service, and a paid month off is an integral part of life. Other countries like Australia, Brazil, Germany, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom commit to at least 20 mandatory vacation days each year.
"The U.S. is woefully behind the other countries," says Carol Sladek, a senior work-life consultant for Hewitt. "The U.S. doesn't have any kind of federal law that requires employers to offer any vacation at all."
And even when companies offer time off, 35 percent of American adults do not take all of the paid vacation days given by their employer, according to an Expedia.com survey. "I don't have the time," says Claudia Matievic, a human resources manager in Houston, who only took five of her 15 paid vacation days last year. "If I took more than a couple of days here and there, everything would fall apart," she says. "There's just not the support I would need to be able to leave the office."
For the five days of vacation she did take, Matievic stayed home with her cellphone, BlackBerry, and laptop handy so she could keep in touch with the office.
About 23 percent of employed adults in the United States report checking work E-mail or voicemail while vacationing, Expedia found. "In Europe they definitely take time off to relax and recharge," says Marie Dufresne, a senior consultant at the Hay Group, a global management consultancy. "We are just not a culture of people laying back and taking time off."
But skipping vacation time or taking work with you may not be in the best interest of employees or companies. Vacation can keep employees healthier, according to Charlotte Fritz, assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology at Bowling Green State University, because time off decreases employee burnout and reported health problems. Expedia found that 39 percent of U.S. adults report feeling better about their job and being more productive upon returning from vacation.