Vacations don't actually make workers happier

That's good news for hardworking Americans, who get no guaranteed paid breaks, unlike Europeans.

By Aimee Picchi Aug 15, 2013 7:16AM

Beach (© Corbis)Visit Europe in August and it can seem as if the entire continent is on vacation. It's no wonder, given the mandatory time off workers get there, with the French guaranteed a whopping 30 days. 

While Europeans' generous vacations can inspire either longing or ridicule in Americans, it's worth noting that there's no apparent correlation between paid vacations and worker satisfaction. 

Italian workers, for instance, score lower than U.S. employees in satisfaction, yet they are given 20 paid vacation days per year, on top of 11 paid holidays, the Atlantic reports, citing research from Mercer and a worker satisfaction survey from Randstad.

The Netherlands, meanwhile, scores highest on worker satisfaction, yet it resides in the middle of the pack when it comes to European vacation time, the piece notes.

What explains the discrepancy? Dutch workers enjoy higher incomes than other European workers and have short work schedules. On top of that, they receive something called vakantiegeld (literally, vacation money) before taking a summer break.

Italian workers are dealing with a host of troubles, ranging from a shrinking economy to outrageously high unemployment rates for young people. 

Why do American workers score high on satisfaction while lacking in guaranteed vacation? The reason might be simply that U.S. workers don't usually get firsthand experience with how Europeans live. Because most of us don't often witness French workers languishing on sandy beaches during August, it's not actually rubbed in our faces. 

Satisfaction with vacation time scored relatively high in a 2012 survey of U.S. workers from Gallup. Nearly three-quarters of American workers said they were either completely or somewhat satisfied with the amount of vacation time they received.

So what bugs American workers? On-the-job stress and income, Gallup found. 

Even when Americans get vacation time, they don't always take it. About 57% of U.S. workers had unused vacation time at the end of 2011, CNNMoney reports, using data from Harris Interactive.

Workers cited too much work or the fact that they didn't have enough money to travel. And when Americans do take a vacation, they are often still tied to work via smartphones or laptops. 

Given that the concept of a vacation is increasingly foreign to the "no-vacation nation," Americans are apparently instead judging work satisfaction on issues like pay and flexible hours instead.

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 

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Aug 15, 2013 12:29PM
I like vacation and I find it helps my spirit if I have it to look forward to.  However, it seems lately like you do take vacation the bosses see you as a slacker and when the cuts come, which they always do no matter how hard you work, they cut you.  Nowadays job cuts are inevitable.  It used to be that loyalty was rewarded as was productivity and companies did everything they could to avoid job cuts.  Now it is money at the top, the boss would fire twenty before he gives up one penny of his profits.  If he can't get enough profit then he will just outsource your job.  Now you have to do more work for less pay, less time off and be groveling with gratefulness at their feet or you are a lazy person who wants it all.  After all only the top brass can have it all-and we work our butts off to make sure it stays that way. 

Aug 15, 2013 12:56PM
It's urban legend that those who take vacations are among the first to be let go in a downturn. There is scant evidence to support this. Everyone should take a 2-week vacation annually. It doesn't have to be overseas...the US is a big country. Visit the mountains, coastal areas, deserts, big cities. All work and no play makes one a really dull person.
Aug 15, 2013 1:30PM

I think Aimee needs a vacation.


This is a total crock.

Vacations give you a mental break from your daily routine, and in many instances a fresh perspective on your business.


Money is not the root of all happiness----and what this story doesn't say is that greater income stability and flexible hours lead to the ability to take time off.


My company makes us take at least 40 hours consecutive time off if we are full time... and I think all companies should follow suit. It is good for both the employer and employee.


Also, if you are doing quality work, you shouldn't have to worry about being replaced in a week.

I've been to Europe, they have the work life balance figured out. We could learn a few things.  

Aug 15, 2013 1:22PM
Where I live - Silicon Valley - the Indian work force routinely takes 4 weeks off consecutively to go back to India. I never seen a single one lose their job for doing this. Yet, most American workers seem scared ****less to take even a week off, let alone two.
Aug 15, 2013 3:24PM

Everyday is like being on vacation for me!  I love my job! boss knows my posting name.

Aug 15, 2013 6:21PM

We are so stressed by our employers, we are just trying to hang onto our jobs. Lying about work life balance is par for the course from upper management. Making you feel guilty if you take a day off is more like it . Implying that your job is in jeopardy is also a daily occurrence if you take time off.  Yhat is why we go in sick, don't use our vacation days and give up our personal life!


ARE you freaking kidding me!. Who took this survey? Were they taken at places of employment. Because we ALL LIE on those stupid surveys given by our companies!!!  A prime an example is when you are told they are anonymous, and you see someone called in the office for how they answered their survey! 



Aug 15, 2013 9:45AM

Aimee has most likely never set foot out of the US as well as her sources. They point to Italy without knowing the people, (I have family there) the worker's attitude there is not influenced by paid time off but rather the political stability, or rather the lack of stability. The study doesn't mention

Germany, Switzerland, England, Austria, Hungry, Sweden, Norway or a dozen other states that have stable politics and similar economic  models to the US. It's like having a bag of pinto beans that has 3 white beans mixed in, someone reaches into the bag and pulls out a white bean and proudly states that the bag of beans is a bag of white beans.

Aug 15, 2013 10:28AM
Why would you want  to take a long vacation in the US?   You might come back and not have a job. 
Aug 15, 2013 9:02AM
vacations are taken when one can.  i have had such a cluster_F of prior employers (7 out of 10 are gone today) that i hold onto my accrued vacation for possible use as a severance package.  i steal little extra days here and there, but haven't had a formal 2 week vacation in over 10 years. 
Aug 17, 2013 6:22AM
Sure, keep telling everyone vacations don't make them happier.  Right
Aug 16, 2013 1:05PM
Aug 15, 2013 12:18PM
I  saved   up    some   vacation   time  and   spent   a  month  volunteering   at  a   hospital   in   the   British   West   Indies.  My  kind   of   vacation  is  to  see  up  close   how   other  people   live   their   lives.    The  people  on  St.  Lucia   weren't   wealthy,  but   their   children   were  clean  and   well   cared   for.   If   a   patient   came  to  the   hospital   for  a  scheduled   surgery,  they   brought   new   PJ's,   after  shave,   tooth   brush,  etc.   They  were  proud  and   very   grateful   people.   My   patients   in  the   US  (Palm  Springs)   were   angry  and   complaining    (many  of  them).  My   take  away  was   that  the   US  culture  is   a  hot  mess.   And  this  was  in the  80's.  It's   worse  now. 
Aug 15, 2013 11:02AM
It's pretty easy and cheap to travel in Europe because of the proximity of so many different countries. Most places in the US you are looking at a 4 hour flight to get to Mexico.
Aug 15, 2013 1:49PM
"The reason might be simply that U.S. workers don't usually get firsthand experience with how Europeans live."

And most don't get secondhand experience either: Americans don't spend any time learning about other countries - but if you ask them they know it all!
Aug 19, 2013 3:53PM
Many feel that it is not worth it to go away for a week or more because there is so much of their work that is waiting for them when they get back.  Much of it is true since many corporations are squeezed tight in terms of workers that no one may be able to pick up the slack of an employee when they are out.
Aug 19, 2013 2:46PM
Everyone NEEDS a break! Mentally it is necessary, give your mind and body a rest from the day to day crap you have to put up with at work! I know I NEED two weeks off every year! If I could afford it, I would take a month off. But they need me at work, I handle all the invoicing and writing up repair orders. My best freind works for Ricoh, he's been there for 4 years and has built up four weeks vacation time already! :) It's a good company to work for, unlike mine at the auto repair shop, they encourage you and give you perks when you do your job well. 
Aug 16, 2013 9:16AM

If a goldfish should want a vacation, who would know?

Kelog Albran

Aug 19, 2013 1:58PM
It would be nice to accrue vacation time instead of having a forced unpaid leave for 2 months of the year where I have to scramble for a second job inorder to pay the rent.  Vacations take time and money. 
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