Monday, January 31, 2011

American Vacation?

I was chatting with my brother at Christmas and discussed how much holidays people usually had in the States and I was shocked. Typically, the average hard-working American is entitled to two weeks vacation. This is compared to an average of four in the UK.

Not only do we Brits get substantial holidays (plus sick leave and usually even special leave for family emergencies), but we also get bank holidays off. In the US, only a select few employees get those days off (banks and government agencies, for example). For everyone else, it's business as usual.

Plus - and here's the worst bit - if you work part time you are not automatically entitled to any annual leave. Not pro rata, not one bit.

According to a 2007 report by CEPR, "...the United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation or holidays. As a result, 1 in 4 U.S. workers do not receive any paid vacation or paid holidays. The lack of paid vacation and paid holidays in the U.S. is particularly acute for lower-wage and part-time workers, and for employees of small businesses."

Does this seem fair? How can one of the major world powers get away with treating its citizens like this?
One could argue that working its people so hard is what has kept America on top, but given its current economic woes I'm not convinced. The reality, I suspect, is that politicians in the US have their hands tied in terms of introducing any kind of legislation that would make paid annual leave compulsory. They are obliged to keep those companies investing billions of dollars in the American economy happy, and forcing them to give paid leave to employees would not go down very well with big business.

The idea that giving people more time off would lead to lower productivity and effectiveness (which is, presumably the fear of US companies) is daft. In fact, I suspect productivity would increase as people become more energised with their time off. At the very worst, things would stay the same - but at least people would be just that little bit happier with their lives.

Time off is one of those things I think we should hold sacred in a civilised society. It gives us a chance to switch off, unwind, smell the roses and just 'be'. While work helps to define us and gives structure and meaning to our lives it's only a part of who we are. We are also defined by our relationships - our family and friends. If we work all the hours God sends and don't get to spend any time with those we love and care about - well, what's the point?

Not only that, but time to ourselves is also vitally important. A chance to walk in the woods or stroll along an empty beach alone gives us a chance to reflect and ponder the bigger issues, to clear the cobwebs from the mind and dream a little.

Isn't that what being human is about? Isn't that one of the things that separates us from the animals?

1 comment:

  1. That's one thing that would put me off living in America... unless I was so rich I didn't have to work!