The American work vacation paradox

As a hybrid person living in the USA, I have always been saddened by the paltry paid vacation time offered by employers and the complete reluctance to exercise all their time off by employees. So, this article on Forbes made me crack up.

It is easy to see why employers would be reluctant to pay people to have time off. That would be a massive labour cost that is clearly visible on a P&L. Just to make sure the employees don’t forget they are lucky to get any paid leave (only 57% take it all), they bombard them with urgent emails, whilst they are on vacation. After all you want them to be able to hit the ground running when they get back from their 5 days “off”. Weekends, shmeekends that’s just a fancy word for free working days.

Sadly these easily accountable line items, fail to capture productivity, engagement, creativity, family disfunction and a  number of other soft factors that can have a huge impact on your business. With 70% of Americans disengaged with work, that leaves only 30% that actually want to be there….I hope for your sake they are all working for you! There are a number of studies that look at the damage disengaged workers do to a business and the numbers far exceed the cost of a few weeks off.

Not that I think time off is the panacea for all engagement ills, but it does demonstrate a certain amount of care and support for the employees wellbeing. If you told your average European or Australian that they would get 13 days off  a year, and that in fact they probably shouldn’t take all of those, they would no doubt tell you where to stick that job. They are more than happy to work hard when at work, but they need time to get away and unwind.

I love what VW in Germany did, when they decided to block work emails after hours for all their employees. Not only are they expecting you to unplug, they are mandating it. I’d love to see the numbers down the track. I have no doubt that a few hours a day off email will not hurt the business, but it will no doubt benefit the mental and family health of the employees. I guess we will have to wait and see.

I love what companies like Treehouse are doing. The 70 employees of this online education company only work four days a week at the same full salary as other people in the same sector. Yet, to no great surprise the company’s revenue has grown 120%, it generates more than $10 million a year in sales, and it manages more than 70,000 customers, according to a post in Quartz by CEO Ryan Carson.

It seems that after 3 days off the employees come back refreshed and eager to work. They are probably also more creative and don’t want to leave the company. Hmmmm, people v commodities, now there is a thought…..

Anyway, the article that started my musings suggests that the Americans that don’t like work, but also don’t want to take time off should expand their horizons and find out what other people do. Setting aside any preconceptions and checking out the rest of the world, talking to people finding out how/why people do what they do. Now if we could only get all people in the world to do that… perhaps we could destroy all those nasty prejudices reduce conflict and create a happier healthier world….OK OK, we’ll just start with a healthier and happier American work force and see how we go from there.


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