Americans and the vacation conundrum

David Lazarus Feb 15, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: We’re coming up on George Washington’s birthday, which we observe, of course, as Presidents Day. That means a three day weekend for many American workers. Federal employees will get Monday off, so will many students.

But not everyone will be kicking back, and that’s a problem, says L.A. Times consumer columnist David Lazarus. Good morning.

David Lazarus: Good morning.

Hobson: So how do we stack up holiday- and vacation-wise in this country?

Lazarus: Not so well, it turns out. If you look at other industrialized countries — for example the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia — they guarantee, at a minimum, 10 to 20 days of paid leave every year. In France, it’s 30 days. In the United States, our guaranteed paid leave: Zero.

Hobson: Wow.

Lazarus: Zero. And then you look at vacation days. In the rest of the world, paid holidays — guaranteed — vary from five days to about two weeks. In the United States: Zero.

Hobson: But I’ve read, David, that some people don’t even take the vacation days that they have. They get vacation time from their employer but they don’t even take it.

Lazarus: This is true. In fact, some surveys show that about half of all U.S. workers do not take all their allotted time off. Which raises the real question: Why is that? I think the answer’s going to be because there’s a lot of pressure from our employers not to be out of sight for too long. And in fact, when you do take a vacation, you’re expected to kind of still be reachable via your BlackBerry or your iPhone.

Hobson: So therefore, should you take vacation days? Should you take the vacation that you’re given, or should you worry that if you do, you’re going to get fired or something?

Lazarus: Well, it’s a two-lane street here. On the one hand, you’re going to have a better quality of life if you take your vacation time, and you’ll probably be a better person for it. On the other hand, your employer’s probably going to look at you and think: That guy’s a slacker.

Hobson: Well, although some people would look at this and say: At least the U.S. economy, it’s a hard-working economy — yes, maybe we work ourselves too hard, but we’re doing better right now than the economies of Europe, which do, as you say, have more vacation time.

Lazarus: Yeah, and you ask the World Economic Forum and they say, Look at the United States: They have the fourth most competitive economy in the world. Except then you bring in Sweden, which guarantees five weeks off for its workers every year, and they have the second most competitive economy.

Hobson: Time to move to Sweden. L.A. Times consumer columnist David Lazarus. David, thanks a lot.

Lazarus: I need a vacation.

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