Tired, hud­dled masses

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE -

When was the last time you took a va­ca­tion? Or the last time you worked 40 hours or less in a week?

As Amer­i­cans, the an­swers to those ques­tions likely don’t draw a lot of happy feel­ings, and re­cent re­search un­der­scores just how over­worked we are.

Bloomberg News re­cently re­ported on an un­pub­lished work­ing pa­per by economists in Amer­ica, Canada and Ger­many that sought to com­pare work weeks of Amer­i­cans and Euro­peans. The find­ings?

“Amer­i­cans are ad­dicted to their jobs. U.S. work­ers not only put in more hours than work­ers do al­most any­where else. They’re also in­creas­ingly re­tir­ing later and tak­ing fewer va­ca­tion days,” the news agency found in its re­view.

The av­er­age per­son in Amer­ica works 19 per­cent more than the av­er­age per­son in Europe, or about 258 more hours per year, or about an hour more each week­day, ac­cord­ing to the economists’ re­search.

Hours worked vary a lot by coun­try, ac­cord­ing to the re­search, Swiss work habits are most sim­i­lar to Amer­i­cans’, while Ital­ians are the least likely to be at work, putting in 29 per­cent fewer hours per year than Amer­i­cans do, Bloomberg found.

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies have found that less than half of all Amer­i­cans take all their given va­ca­tion time in a year and only 22 per­cent used the bulk of their paid sick time. Mean­while, work­ers in most Euro­pean coun­tries are legally en­ti­tled to about 20 days of va­ca­tion or more each year, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the Cen­ter for Eco­nomic and Pol­icy Re­search. Swedes are en­ti­tled to five weeks, while French work­ers get as many as 30 days.

The United States is the only ad­vanced econ­omy with no na­tional va­ca­tion pol­icy and one in four work­ers, typ­i­cally in low-wage jobs, have no paid va­ca­tion at all, Bloomberg re­ported. Those that do, get, on av­er­age, 10 to 14 days a year.

Re­searchers be­lieve the most re­cent data will be in­sight­ful to fu­ture stud­ies on why ex­actly Amer­i­cans work more and va­ca­tion less than their Euro­pean peers.

One the­ory is be­cause their ad­di­tional ef­fort is more likely to pay off, as salary ranges vary more sub­stan­tially in the U.S. than over­seas. An­other is that Europe’s higher taxes dis­suade work­ers from putting in ex­tra work that would be taxed.

La­bor unions, along with other worker pro­tec­tions, are also much stronger in Europe than in the U.S., lead­ing to fewer hours worked by em­ploy­ees.

Gen­er­ous pen­sions in Europe are also a strong fac­tor in dis­cour­ag­ing older peo­ple from work­ing, whereas in the U.S., more peo­ple over 65 are work­ing than at any point in the past 50 years, Bloomberg re­ported.

Maybe the most pedes­trian of rea­sons, how­ever, is the stigma of va­ca­tion­ing in Amer­i­can work­places. Es­pe­cially now as busi­nesses try to grow again af­ter the re­ces­sion, work­places have lean staffs and missing even one per­son for a week or two can mean ex­tra work on co­work­ers or pil­ing up of work to re­turn to.

What­ever the rea­son for staying at your desk, the fact re­mains: not va­ca­tion­ing is harm­ful to our col­lec­tive health and econ­omy.

One long-term study found that men who don’t take va­ca­tions are 30 per­cent more likely to have heart at­tacks than those who do. For women, it’s 50 per­cent. A Swedish study found that anti-de­pres­sant pre­scrip­tions dropped dra­mat­i­cally dur­ing periods when large num­bers of res­i­dents were on va­ca­tions.

Mean­while, not us­ing va­ca­tion car­ries a fi­nan­cial bur­den. The es­ti­mated 577 mil­lion un­used va­ca­tion days on the ta­ble every year also add up to $67 bil­lion in lost travel spend­ing and 1.2 mil­lion jobs, ac­cord­ing to an Ox­ford Eco­nom­ics re­port. And em­ploy­ers have to carry the un­used va­ca­tion days on their bal­ance sheets every year, be­com­ing an enor­mous fi­nan­cial obli­ga­tion.

In order to help each other, we need to be­gin to help our­selves.

Take a va­ca­tion, sup­port your co­work­ers when they do and un­der­stand that ev­ery­one shouldn’t be at their desk 24/7.

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