Give Me A Break: Why Do the US Jobs Offer So Little Vacation Time?

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Last night on Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher’s final “new rule” was related to the fact that the vast majority of jobs in United States offer little to no vacation time, especially in comparison to the rest of the world.

To see the youtube clip, go to: Real Time With Bill Maher – New Rule June 15th

This really struck me in 1999, when I spent four weeks travelling in Guatemala. I thought I was fortunate to be able to build up enough comp time to take such a long vacation break, until I spoke with people from other countries who expressed their sympathy that my trip was so short. And most of my jobs since then have only had two weeks of vacation time.

It is hard for me to understand why the United States vacation system is so meager compared to the rest of the world. I can only assume that companies are trying to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of workers.

But I can’t help but wonder whether expectations that people will not take a vacation, or the fear that a person could lose his or her job simply because of using vacation days, actually leads to less productivity in the workplace – and to more sick days.

I believe that the low number of vacation days in the United States also likely contributes to rising health care costs and to increased obesity rates as we all sit on our rear ends for at least 40 hours every week, only to go home so exhausted, that all we can do is sit on our rear ends for a few more hours in front of the television. I can’t believe that this is actually good for any of us.

What do you think? If you are working now, or when you worked previously, how willing were you to use your vacation days? Did you feel pressured not to use your days? Why do you think the United States is so far behind the rest of the world on this issue? Do you think that this will change? What do think it is about the American culture that perpetuates this problem? If you are not from the United States, how many vacation days do people in your country start with when they start a job? And how many vacation days do you have? Do you use them?


Filed under Career Planning, comedy, Culture, Fitness, Health, Income inequality, International, Politcs, Role of Government, social pressures, travel

18 responses to “Give Me A Break: Why Do the US Jobs Offer So Little Vacation Time?

  1. Hi there. I worked as a registered nurse for more than 30 years. Fortunately for me, my profession was very much in demand in my area of the world…South Florida. So, I never felt that I had to skip my vacation, or cut my vacation short for any such reason.

    • That is great. And, as a nurse, you probably had more of an understanding of how important vacation time was. But how much time did you get? Was it a generous vacation package?

  2. Canada is about the same. I am fortunate to work for a school division, so have my summers off, as well as Christmas & Spring Breaks. All breaks are unpaid, though, so makes it hard to AFFORD to go anywhere. Hubby has only worked up to 3 weeks paid vacation per year – and he’s been working for this company for over 10 years! (He started with only 1 week’s holiday) He takes off the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day so he can be home for the holidays (there’s not much going on at the office then, anyway) but we hate traveling during that time as EVERYONE ELSE travels then. That doesn’t leave us a whole lot of TIME for traveling, either. We rely on VISA points to help us afford a trip about every 4 years, but the longest we can be away from home is 2 weeks. 😦

  3. I get 29 days a year, almost 6 weeks. I don’t get any sick leave. So if I have to go to the doctor or take care of my child, I take vacation. Now that my child is older I have started to accumulate some leave but it would be difficult to take more than two weeks at a time even if I had the money to do so. The European system is much more humane….

  4. I can’t comment, even though I read your post with interest. As a retired fart, every day is Saturday. But I vote for increased leisure time and vacation time and also that we learn how to spend it productively!

  5. All full time Australian workers are entitled to 4 weeks leave however, the trend seems to having 95% of staff on as part-time workers, who don’t need holiday or sick pay, but giving them full time hours…

  6. We didn’t become the world’s great economic power without making some sacrifices, that’s for sure. Until the obsession with economic growth subsides (the whole notion is massively unsustainable!), then I don’t see the average American getting more time off. Just completed my 8th year teaching, and there’s no way I’ll ever work a full calendar year in the traditional sense of the world. Family, rest, travel, exploring hobbies, and pursuing passions are not worth sacrificing at the expense of more work!

    • Smart man!! 🙂 So true. But I can’t help but believe that this will catch up to us in the long run. People may not connect the dots, but this is impacting our health as a nation. Thanks for your comment!

  7. I heard that the trade off for only two weeks’ leave was the number of public holidays that Americans get. However, even if there are more public holidays, that doesn’t give the average American freedom of choice as to when to take his or her annual leave, so it doesn’t fully compensate. In Australia, we have add campaigns encouraging workers to take a holiday, apparently we hoard vacation days. Also, whilst four weeks is the statutory minimum, some of the more savvy employers can offer five or even six week’s leave as part of their benefits package. One of the greatest gifts an employer can give is time.

    • Really??? We should count them up. I don’t think we get many holidays. I think we get about 10 per year. Of course, my husband is from Argentina, so maybe I come from a different perspective. Thanks for sharing your perspectives! Ad campaigns to get people to take vacation. I love it! I want to go work there. 🙂

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