Making fun of the French is a favorite American pastime, none more so than when it comes to how much vacation French workers take. This really gained national attention here in the USA when France opted for the 35-hour workweek. Laugh all we want, but in my humble opinion, they will have the last laugh. The issue goes far beyond just how much one works or plays.
The United States ranks last among 21 industrialized countries in the number of days of paid vacation and holidays it guarantees workers by law, says a study by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.
So complete is the corporate grip on the American psyche that no day in the year, not even July 4, the most patriotic U.S. holiday of all, is a paid holiday guaranteed by law. What paid time off workers get is decided by their employers, or negotiated on their behalf by unions.
The U.S. is unique among countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in having no statutory requirements for employers to provide any paid vacation or paid holidays for their workers. "It’s a national embarrassment that 28 million Americans (one in four workers) don’t get any paid vacation or paid holidays,” the report says.
The situation is most critical for lower-wage, part-time, and small-business employees who fare the worst of all. When they do receive paid time off, the amount they receive is far less generous than what is available to their higher-wage, full-time counterparts with larger employers, the study adds.
As far as I know, most employees here in America get only two calendar weeks per year (10 working days) of paid leave during their first five years of employment. This increases progressively and can get as high as six weeks per year after thirty years of service. While this sound great for later years, the problem is, by that time, it’s too late for many families in terms of stress, child neglect, break-ups, and many other social ills. Inadequate leave from work is disastrous to young families in their formative years when maximum parental involvement (from diaper change to PTA meetings) is crucial to the bonding of family members with each other and with society at large.
We know from experience the truth in the old adage that “the amount of work expands to fill the time available to do it.” Those of us who have participated in projects of any kind during our working life can relate to this very closely. At the risk of exaggerating, the most productive and meaningful part of a project takes place during the last 20% of the time available for that project. The first 80% of the time available could easily be cut back by half without any serious impact. So, as one case in point, it makes sense to make deadlines tighter. By doing so, work is prioritized and done more efficiently, leaving more room and flexibility for time off.
So, which country ranks the highest in terms of paid vacation and holidays? It is Finland, with 39 days (30 paid vacation, 9 paid holidays). During Finland's six-month presidency of the European Union in 2006, hundreds of journalists visited the country. Many of them asked the same questions: Why are the Nordic countries at the top of the world's competitive rankings? Why is there no corruption? Why is the Nordic school system so good? It turns out that it is not about taxation. It is not about the public sector and absolutely nothing to do with the Scandinavian welfare model. It is all about culture. It is about the rise of the leisure ethic.
In simpler terms, it’s all about “pay me now or pay me later, but pay me.” When you cut paid leave to the bone, you immediately eliminate any chance of an employee having a balanced life style. As employees’ entire psyche and mental preoccupation shift to work, they forget how NOT to work and how to focus on leisure. Indeed, it has been firmly established that the all-work-no-play scenario creates a situation where the employee is happiest only at work.
Moreover, during what little leisure time is available, most of the preoccupation is with work that waits them back at the office! In addition to the mental fatigue that this creates, the growing resentment at work is matched only by the resentment at home from neglected family members. You know the rest that follows. Long term, it’s a lose-lose-lose-lose situation (employer-employee-family-society).Let’s also not forget how this problem is magnified when both spouses work, especially when they both HAVE to work to make ends meet. Now they have to coordinate their leisure time with each other and with their respective employers.
This is further complicated by the relatively narrow window of available school holidays and the unavoidable extra-curricula activities. It takes superb planning to pull it off and, frankly, most are not good at it without help and coaching.Given all this, one solution is surely more paid time off to give more flexibility for organizing meaningful leisure time and to have more room for errors outside one’s control, such as illnesses, overbooked or canceled flights, natural disasters, etc. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good business.
Companies plan and invest their time and resources in just about everything except examining and addressing leisure time for their employees. Educating and coaching employees about the importance of a balanced life style is one area which should receive the highest priority by management. It will pay off many times over in terms of a more effective, efficient, and creative work force. We have all seen what happens (and happens quickly) to companies which lose their creative edge.Pay me now or pay me later, but pay me!
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