Vacation Time: Pay or Play?

Many statistics show that, among First World countries, Americans work extremely hard.  We generally have fewer work-related benefits and less time off than our counterparts in Europe.  Even so, it looks like we’re not much more productive.  A fairly recent study, “Usable Productivity” Growth in the U.S.: An International Comparison, 1980-2005 concludes with the following statements:

After making these adjustments, the productivity performance of the United States look substantially worse relative to other OECD countries than what the conventional data indicate in both the period 1980-1995 and in the period 1995-2005. While productivity growth in the United States lagged behind the OECD average in the first period even by the conventional measures, the gap is considerably larger once these adjustments are made. In the more recent period, the United States goes from being one of the leaders in productivity growth to one of the laggards, with an average annual rate of sustainable productivity growth that is almost a full percentage point below the other countries in the sample.

So, in general, we work harder, but we don’t accomplish much more.  That seems to be quite consistent with the American culture of materialism and being overly-driven.  This morning, I started reading a discussion thread on MSN Money, entitled Time vs. Money.  The original poster asked how readers felt about people cashing in their unused vacation (that is, accepting money for the time, rather than taking the time off). 

The lengthy list of responses is interesting, and seems to provide a lot of insight into how a random sampling of workers think about vacation.  Many of the responders agreed that enjoying life and taking vacations should be higher priorities.  Many others, however, mentioned that fear of losing job status, promotions, and dealing with additional work upon returning from vacation were big issues.  Sadly, these should be management issues: We should value the quality of work, rather than the quantity.  And, if employees don’t have enough time to reasonably finish their work, business owners should staff adequately.  Overall, the U.S. could learn a lot from other developed countries.  I’ll do my part by urging people to place work lower on their list of priorities.  Unfortunately, with very little government support (at least under the Bush Administration), it seems like this problem will only get significantly worse.

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