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America lags (and drags) on paid vacation

In all of the developed world, the U.S. stands alone on lack of guaranteed paid vacation and holiday time.

Brian O'Connell
by Brian O'Connell, MainStreet contributor

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The average U.S. adult works about 1,787 hours a year, which is the middle of the pack of the globe’s hardest-working countries.

The Organization For Economic Co-operation and Development has the numbers, and they’re well worth looking at. (Many may not know Mexicans, Koreans and Chileans, on average, outwork Americans by a substantial margin.)

READ: Can I go on vacation if I'm still in debt?

Where American workers really fall behind is in the amount of paid vacation time. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, the “U.S. is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation time.”

That 1 in 4 Americans don’t get any paid vacation time at all does not compare well to other developed countries.

According to the CEPR, European Union workers are “legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Canada and Japan guarantee at least 10 days of paid vacation per year. U.S. workers have no statutory right to paid vacations.”

Also, most economically developed nations offer between five and 13 legal holidays off. Not so for the U.S., where federal laws do not mandate paid days off for workers in the private sector.

“The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays,” says John Schmitt, a senior economist and co-author of the report. “Relying on businesses to voluntarily provide paid leave just hasn’t worked.”

A bit of the blame may go to all those mobile phones, tablets and laptops we’re carrying around.

“America is behind on offering employees paid vacation day due to a number of reasons,” says Michael Crom, executive vice president at Dale Carnegie Training. “For one, our digital culture can make it impossible for employees to fully un-plug from the office, and therefore make them feel like they need to answer every request that shows up in their inbox 100 percent of the time.”

Crom says that is a big mistake; studies have shown vacation time gives employees needed time to recharge.

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“This ability to be away from work totally at times allows for greater engagement and greater productivity when they are working,” he says.

The no-vacation mindset may be changing, however, and it's employers driving that change.

“Some organizations are finding that using extra paid vacation days can positively impact employee engagement levels,” Crom says. “Using paid days off or paid volunteer days allow employees to feel valued by their manager or company while also feeling pride for where they work. Our Dale Carnegie Training's employee engagement study found that two key drivers of employee engagement were feeling valued by your manager and having pride in your company. So I wouldn't be surprised if other companies adopted these engagement strategies to retain their top talent as the economy continues to improve.”

Brian O’Connell has 15 years of experience covering business news and trends, particularly in the financial, health care and career management sectors. He has written 14 books and appeared on CNN, Fox News, CNBC, C-Span, Bloomberg, CBS Radio and other media outlets and in such publications as The Wall Street Journal and The Street.com. He is a former Wall Street bond trader.