It’s August; Why Are So Many People at Work?

U.S. workers have the shortest paid vacations among developed and emerging market countries.

Unlike most developed nations, the United States does not require employers to give employees a minimum number of vacation days. And it happens that U.S. employers are less generous in awarding paid vacation than those in other developed and emerging market countries.

Why don’t workers complain? Maybe they do, but many of them aren’t using all the vacation days they receive.

When 2012 ended, 70 percent of American workers had unused vacation time, according to a 2013 poll. The reason may be labor market pressure. “Employers have been reducing their staffing and therefore pushing for greater productivity from their employees, particularly over the last several years of the economic downturn,” Katherine Ponds said. She is regional vice-president of Right Management, the workforce consultant firm that conducted the poll.

Ponds believes that many American workers ask themselves, “If I’m away too much, is that suggesting that I’m not as committed as I ought to be?” The answer seems to be to take shorter vacations.

Is Working Long Working?

“How much people take off in August, for most people, is determined by their bosses. The difference between the United States and other places is that we guarantee much less vacation. Federal workers getting federal holidays is our only guarantee. [Otherwise] it is ultimately driven primarily by the strength of the economy — how much demand there is for goods and services people are producing. If there is high demand, more people are going to be working in August.”
— Robert J. Shapiro, president of Sonecon, which analyzes effects of government policy on America’s economy

“Long hours have been a red badge of courage that show the boss you deserve a promotion. But long hours reduce workers’ effectiveness and are associated with signs of depression and lower overall health.”
— Ken Matos, researcher for the Families and Work Institute

Robert J. Shapiro says the amount of vacation U.S. workers take is driven by the strength of the economy.

70% of American workers have unused vacation time

VACATION days
(Average paid per year)

Italy: 42
France: 37
Germany: 35
Brazil: 34
UK: 28
Japan: 25
South Korea: 25
U.S.: 13

Source: World Tourism Organization

While Americans have fewer vacation days than others, they don’t work as many hours per year as a handful of other countries’ workers. South Koreans are the standouts. They tend to work 50-hour work weeks, while Americans work 40-hour weeks.

HOURS worked
(Per person, per year)

U.S.: 1,778
South Korea: 2,193

Source: International Labour Organization

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