now get back to work

Almost American raises a timely point in yesterday’s comment.

It’s true that Europe gets billions more holiday time off than the states. And people sort of say it like one of those Facts We All Know. Like socialized healthcare and driving on the left side.

B U T I think it’s worth a stop and a think. What is up with the U.S. (aside from teachers and civil servants)? Where did it evolve in the culture that women should go back to work after three months max of maternity leave and that everyone should spend most of their working lives with two vacation weeks a year (if that)? When you’re living in it, and there is no ability to compare, I suppose we all accept it. After all, three months maternity leave might seem like a lot. And most people can craftily sort out all their vacation needs in 2 weeks.

In my office yesterday, a colleague was telling us how because he had been at the firm 18 years, he had accrued 3 extra vacation days. So instead of the 25 that we all start off with (yep, 25…FIVE WEEKS), he was at 28. And then stories were compared about other UK firms where the days were accrued even earlier. And I looked at them and said, jokingly, “I hope for your sakes you never work in the U.S.” And they looked at me, with dead seriousness, and said, “that’s exactly why we never will.”

So it’s really special for an entire country (America) to have that reputation. Overworking its people, not valuing a healthy balance, stingy on the ability to actually care for a baby (in the UK, you can take up to one year mat leave and still have a job waiting for you)…

According to my very scientific research on the internets, the United States is the only wealthy nation with an advanced economy that does not mandate employers offer paid vacation time or paid sick days to its employees. Even Wikipedia has something to say about all this:

Most countries around the world have labor laws mandating employers give a certain number of paid days of time off per year to be given to a worker. In nearly all Canadian provinces, the legal minimum is two weeks, while in most of Europe the limit is significantly higher. The U.S. does not require employers to give a set mandatory vacation time. However, in the free-market labor system in the United States, many employers offer paid vacation, typically 10 to 20 work days, as an incentive to attract employees.

I am not becoming a Eurolefty. I see the problems in employment in systems over here where the employees have too many rights and feelings of entitlement and exploit them. But the U.S. just isn’t good enough. And I honestly don’t know how I could ever assimilate back in to its work culture. I mean, do you know what five weeks off feels like? It feels like you could have quality time with family, be a happier person, regroup and see places in the world that will re-energize you and possibly even make you want to work hard. It feels like the opposite of prison.

Um, happy Friday?



Filed under culture clash, politics...sike!

15 responses to “now get back to work

  1. jenny

    how about this for depressing? My office gives no maternity leave because… “it treats people unfairly who opt NOT to have kids.” um… I’ve never been offended when a new mom or dad wants to take time off. But the office “allows” you to use your vacation and sick leave in lieu of maternity leave.

  2. yael

    That is seriously depressing. And the argument that “it treats people unfairly who opt NOT to have kids” seems rather illogical to me. Not sure it is good for American society to disincentivize perpetuating the species.

  3. I think you get the same amount of work done if you have more holiday. The week before you go, you always get through stuff at twice the speed, and put in extra hours if necessary. Then when you get back, as you say, you are refreshed, and that must feed into your productivity level (even if the first day or two are completely wasted by having to tell people all about your holiday).

  4. mdouris25

    As someone who is leaving for her belated honeymoon today b/c I couldn’t take a week for my wedding and a week for my honeymoon consecutively – (god forbid 2 weeks off in a row!) this is rather poignant. I’m taking one damn week (the first vacation time since my wedding) and I’m a) getting immense grief for it from the partners and b) I am actually feeling guilty for taking the time off b/c the culture has beat it into me that it’s “bad” to take vacation. Oh, and my firm offers a whopping 2 weeks maternity leave. Blah.

  5. yael

    When the employment market rebounds, please get a new job. I will expect you to attend several happy hours with me at that time. Happy honeymoon.

  6. Mira

    This post couldn’t be more appropriate. At the moment Abbie and I are siting at the airport ready to go to sweet NY. I am SO excited for our upcoming 4-day weekend…I mean, um, vacation.

  7. There HAS to be some middle ground. I’m not all in favor of 5-6 weeks of paid vacation, government intrustion in corporate world, nor do I think that the 1-2 weeks vacation where you’re tethered to your Crackberry because you feel guilty for taking a vacation is workable. Neither system really is that great.

  8. Although it WOULD be nice to get 5-6 weeks paid vacation. Imagine the travels we could taken – why there’s Cuba, Haiti, uhm, other places close to S. Florida (j/k).
    I think trips to South Africa, Peru, NYC, and others would and should all be taken.

  9. yael

    Oh you Libertarian 🙂 See, five weeks would grow on you!

  10. Elizabeth

    In Australia there is 4 weeks vacation by law. Now, try explaining to all the friends and family you grew up with that you can only visit once every two years because if you take the time to get to Australia and spend 6 days visiting everyone, you have used up your entire vacation time for the year and will now have to work Christmas and New Year.

  11. mdouris25

    Yael – I’m totally in for happy hours. And a new job. Not necessarily in that order.

  12. Glad to hear I inspired a post!

    My brother used to get 6 weeks vacation time, but then he started work for an American company in the UK and his vacation time dropped significantly. I think he still gets more vacation time than his colleagues in the US though.

    Oh, and here in the US. most teachers I know work at least part-time over the summer – either unpaid, preparing stuff for the next academic year, or paid because they need the $$!

  13. Virginia

    This is all very interesting. U.S. Culture at its best…or something. As a government employee…admittedly I get a lot of leave….and 10 fed. holidays a year…so I have no complaints…except that I’ve had two babies in a somewhat short period of time and used up all of that leave, since there is no paid leave you use what you have until you run out, for me it was 9 weeks–for each baby. Two years later I am finally back in a surplus of leave with like 70 hours…and ready for my 1 week vacation in July then I”ll be back down to less then a week, but its better than nothing! Work to live…that’s my motto.

  14. snosh

    absolutely the overwhelmingly number 1 reason i couldn’t make it in corporate america. i accrued 4 hours of PTO – sick and vacation leave were the same- every month. imagine. this was absolutely the reason i focused on getting a government job. yes, i work an insane amount of OT without being compensated, but at summer’s end when i say i want to go to burning man with my boyfriend they’ll all smile and tell me to take lots of pictures while i’m there.

  15. yael

    This is all too depressing.

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