America, on the other hand, is at work.
The New York Times reports that Americans work an average of 1,804 hours a year while Germans work 1,436. A National Bureau of Economic Research report found that Americans work 50% more than do the Germans, French, and Italians.
It’s a global disparity: 39 countries have more vacations days than America. It’s standard for Europeans to have four to six weeks off per year; Americans get 10 days.
After consulting with bright minds, we present to you a few reasons why.
Reason 1: Americans go on tiny amounts of vacation because their jobs are more insecure than European gigs.
“Jobs are more insecure in the U.S. and always have been,” says Cary Cooper, an organizational psychology professor at Lancaster University Management School in England.
“In the American way of life, if your employer wants to get rid of you, they just fire you,” says Cooper, who grew up in California but has lived in the U.K. for 40 years. “In the U.K. we have redundancy pay. You can’t just fire someone.”
If you get fired in the U.K., redundancy pay keeps you paid. The U.K. government says that if you’ve been working at your employer for more than two years, the following will happen if you get fired:
- You’ll get “half a week’s pay for each full year you were under 22.”
- You’ll get “1 week’s pay for each full year you were 22 or older, but under 41.”
- You’ll get “1 and half week’s pay for each full year you were 41 or older.”
That legislation comes care of workers’ rights.
Reason 2: Unions are much stronger in Europe, further adding to job security. With the security comes a willingness — and legal ability — to vacate your gig.
New Yorker writer James Suriowecki says it’s a union thing:
European labour unions are far more powerful and European labour markets are far more tightly regulated than their American counterparts. In the seventies, Europe, like the U.S., was hit by high oil prices, high inflation, and slowing productivity…
In response, labour unions fought for a reduced work week with no reduction in wages, and greater job protection. When it was hard to get wage increases, the unions pushed for more vacation time instead.
Governments responded to political pressure by plumping for leisure, too; in France in the eighties, for instance, a succession of laws increased mandatory vacation time and limited employers’ ability to use overtime.
So since the unions have more sway, folks can securely go on holidays. Unlike in the States.
Reason 3: American culture norms are skewed toward working all the time.
In America, the “expectations of managers are that you should be showing commitment and working,” Cooper says. “Deep down (managers) don’t really believe that you can burn people out and they need R&R, even if they themselves can burn out.”
This tendency also shows up in what the management gurus call “face-time” or “presenteeism” — that phenomenon where you make sure to get to work before your boss and stay until after she’s left, just so you can look impressively assiduous as you refresh Reddit.
Citing a survey of corporate managers who equated more time at the office with being “more dedicated, more hardworking, and more responsible,” Harvard Business School scholar Bob Pozen argues that facetime is a legacy of the industrial era, when people would clock in and clock out. As a result, it’s baked into a lot of our most prestigious professions: lawyers and consultants all bill by the hour — and make bank doing so.
These are the expectations of the U.S., Cooper says.
“You have short holidays” in America, he says. “We expect you to be workaholic, we expect you to show your commitment. But the expectation in Europe is that everybody takes a holiday. It’s part and parcel of European lifestyle.”
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