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Child Care / Elder Care / Flex Time / Employee Retention / Workplace Issues

The right mix of work and vacation

October 22, 2009

American workers have long looked across the pond and wished for the generous vacation policies enjoyed by peers in such European countries as France and Great Britain. And not just in laid-back Europe. Japan and South Africa have ensconced lengthy breaks into their national codes, too.

Americans in practice get about 15 days a year, while at the other extreme, the French get a mandated 30 days. Many other industrialized countries also dictate lavish periods of time away from work, at least by American standards.

As we swing into the holiday season, how do you feel about time off? Some Americans complain of living to work rather than working to live—to the detriment of our well-being. Others boast Americans’ work ethic is a big reason for the economy’s historic growth and resilience (when the greedy and ethically challenged aren’t tearing it down, at least). So our priorities are in the right place in an increasingly competitive world.

Vacation policy is tricky for employers, says Chris Woolard, a senior consultant at Walker Group, the Indianapolis company that measures employee loyalty. Too much, and productivity suffers; too little, and workers defect or burn out.

Walker offers 5.5 weeks a year to use any way its employees see fit—vacation, illnesses, whatever. How much time the average Walker employee actually takes wasn’t immediately available, but Woolard has never used it all. He tends to pick away at his allotment an hour or two at a time to attend to family matters.

What do you think? Should Americans get more or less time off? Is the balance about right?

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