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Bloomberg News recently reported on an unpublished working paper by economists in America, Canada and Germany that sought to compare work weeks of Americans and Europeans.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