Vacation Deprivation: How U.S. PTO compares with other countries

Paid leave? Workers in the United States suffer from "vacation deprivation" compared to employees in many other nations around the world.


WASHINGTON, July 12, 2016 — Workers in the United States suffer from “vacation deprivation” compared to employees in many other nations. Does the absence of paid time off in America enhance the national economy? Does it contribute to a lower employee satisfaction rate? What do public policymakers think? Will paid vacation time become a reality in the future? All these questions, and more, are part of a fascinating, ongoing national debate.

Working in The USA

us-flag-1433760_960_720Data compiled in 2012 by the UK’s International Labour Organization, suggests workers in the United States spend zero days of paid vacation every year compared to those in Canada or Asian countries, where employers, by law, must give workers at least ten days of paid vacation annually. Socialist governments in the UK, Finland, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium all offer 20 paid days of leave to workers. Ultra-liberal Denmark, Sweden, Austria and France mandate even more time off.

The United States permits employers and market forces to determine how much or how little paid vacation time employees should receive. Members of the U.S. Armed Services obtain 30 days of paid vacation, exclusive of national holidays. Tenured teachers in the United States also accrue robust paid vacation time, although low levels of educator compensation keep many scholars working in other jobs during vacations. Yet other Americans labor around-the-clock, including many self-employed entrepreneurs.

woman-613309_960_720Macroeconomic Impacts

The National Education Association  deplores the absence of high teacher pay compared to the private sector. However, teachers usually do receive compensation on “snow days,” for example, when many other educational support personnel go unpaid. Unpaid vacations do not appeal to millions of American workers. 

A new study reported in Forbes detailed the presumed benefits of paid vacations, which include improved employee morale, increased employee retention, greater productivity and health benefits. Nevertheless, researchers reported that last year U. S. workers averaged 3.2 days of unused paid vacation time. Large numbers of self-employed Americans likely continue working in the United States during legal holidays, also.

construction-646914_960_720The Unseen Working Underclasses

The cited study’s statistics wholly fail to account for the contributions of unpaid domestic work performed by housewives and, increasingly, by nontraditional “househubbies”. Family caregivers as well as  others do not always obtain financial remuneration for their labor. But such workers don’t fit nicely within modern socioeconomic labor models. 

Low income workers without job titles often receive no paid vacation time at all, although they frequently continue performing unpaid labor throughout the year. Their efforts, however, often free other household members to work for paychecks. Measuring the tangible impacts of paid vacation time on the national economy therefore remains an issue of some debate.
people-1492052_960_720Worker Satisfaction

In 2014, a nonprofit group cited in Forbes claimed that 52.3 percent of American workers reported feeling dissatisfied with their jobs, a significant decline from the survey responses 30 years ago. Job security and health plan issues accounted for the biggest decline. Satisfaction levels rise significantly with increased financial compensation, with a majority of workers in the $125,000 and above salary range expressing contentment with their jobs.

In other surveys, such as one conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, paid time-off ranked as the most valuable employee benefit. Different types of insurance and other perks did not rank as highly in employee estimation. Yet respectful treatment on the job trumped even these perks in the opinion of 72 percent of workers.

pexels-photo-60219-largePublic Policy Implications

In response to these trends, a small number of innovative employers have begun experimenting with offering unlimited vacation time on an “as needed” basis. These firms permit employees to take time off whenever they feel they need to do so. This effort has obtained mixed results thus far, with outcomes reportedly depending upon the individual corporate atmosphere and the level of trust employees place in the firm. For example, one employee’s unscheduled vacation could become another’s fast track to unemployment in no-rules workplaces. 

Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate to require companies with 15 or more workers to provide two weeks paid vacation per year. Other candidates disagree. Nevertheless, vacation and employee benefits continue to be a hotly debated topic in the U.S. in 2016 and beyond.

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