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Could the U.S. ever adopt the paid holiday systems of Europe?

Sorry for the long absence, I’m back. This BBC post by Michael Goldfarb reflects on the cultural differences in holidays and vacation time between the two sides of the Atlantic: Europe vs. the US. I know as an American in France, one of the things I appreciate (with fellow expats here) is the generous paid vacation time. 5 weeks per year is the legal minimum, not surprisingly put in place by Mitterand’s Socialist presidency nearly 30 years ago. Hard to reform the system and take away perks once people take those advantages for granted.

I think everyone loves vacation but that in the US, it’s an environment of peer pressure to work the hardest and longest hours. People love stating “I haven’t taken vacation in (insert long period of time)”, as if it’s a proof of dedication. The French workforce is one of the most productive and efficient, so I think the US could learn a thing or two and adopt a healthier work/life balance. This way of life is one of the things that attracts Americans to living in France. Your thoughts?

Excerpts from article below.

“…The figures in a 2007 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) are stark. It looked at 21 of the richest countries in the world, and found that only one, the US, does not impose a legal mandate on employers to provide time off.

Obviously, people in America do get paid annual leave, but for most wage earners it is subject to so many different calculations based on seniority and how much you earn, it can only be described as miserly. In other words, it is a privilege to be earned rather than a normal part of compensation.

Nine days of annual leave is what the average American accrues during the course of a year. So you have to be at your job for 12 months before you begin to get even that amount….Holidays as part of compensation are one of the small, subtle things that keep a workplace happy. Happy workers are productive workers in ways that can’t be measured statistically.

Whenever citing Americans’ acceptance of the longer hours they work or their lack of paid leave, the cliche is to say it goes back to the country’s Puritan heritage or the Protestant work ethic. I disagree. I think it comes from raw fear. Most Americans are not descended from Puritan stock. The people I have worked with in a variety of jobs – I wasn’t always a journalist – would have liked nothing more than a guarantee of 20 days of paid holiday a year.

But since the heyday of Thatcher and Reagan, they have been increasingly afraid to ask for it directly and way too afraid to come together and demand it as a group. It is easy enough to get fired in the US, and when people have a job they tend not to want to make waves….”

  1. Fabienne Fitzpatrick
    September 3rd, 2010 at 20:35 | #1

    As a French living and working in the U.S., this is one of my major problems I faced working as an employee in the U.S. So I have given up and created my own business. If you ask for more vacation or time off, you are seen as lazy (The HR even laughed at me). My colleagues were all excited about a 3-day week-end, that was pathetic to watch…I don’t think this is going to change any time soon. There is a lot of guilt when you take more than 1 week vacation. Once I took a two week vacation and when I came back, people looked at me as if I had taken a sabbatical year. I found out later that in fact I was not entitled to a vacation more than 10 days long and it was a favor…That is why you see Americans visiting Europe in 10 days in a frenesie…and going back home exhausted. And that is why most of them do not even consider visiting other countries. This culture really limits their understanding of the world.

  2. September 4th, 2010 at 03:11 | #2

    I think one of the major differences between France and the U.S. is that in the U.S., people GAIN STATUS by showing how hard and long they work (note the CEO’s that work longer hours than anyone else). In other countries, people gain status through other ways. In North African and Middle Eastern countries, the people working the LEAST seem to have the highest status!

  3. September 9th, 2010 at 17:02 | #3

    Genuinely definitely very good website article which has got me considering. I never looked at this from your point of view.

  4. Kitty
    September 19th, 2010 at 22:05 | #4

    I had to laugh when you said one of the reasons why Americans don’t demand longer paid holidays is “raw fear.” That really hit the right nerve! I recently tried to explain to a woman in Austria that virtually all Americans work “at [the] will” of the employer. With the exception of those who belong to unions, high-level executives, law firm partners [and some I know I must have excluded], there are no contracts of employment. Even asking for leave without pay could put you in the spotlight of the HR department. I once added a legitimately due and duly permitted week’s vacation to a week-long business trip and returned to find that someone else had taken over my job! No allegations of my not being the best person to do it, no accusations of incompetence, no misdeeds of any nature. Just WHAM!

  5. September 28th, 2010 at 06:39 | #5

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  6. September 28th, 2010 at 21:53 | #7

    Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  1. September 3rd, 2010 at 08:36 | #1
  2. October 23rd, 2010 at 20:43 | #2

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