Assume that you just started your annual 3-week vacation when disaster struck. Running for your tour bus, you tripped and broke your ankle.
If you work in Spain, all is not lost.
In a June 2012 decision, The Court of Justice of the European Union said the purpose of paid annual leave is to “enable the worker to rest and to enjoy a period of relaxation and leisure.” By contrast, sick leave “is given to the worker so that he can recover from an illness that has caused him to be unfit for work.”
So, even though your vacation has already begun, now it will be called paid sick leave. It is okay to schedule another (paid) vacation.
Where are we going with this?
Mandated by law, Spanish workers get 12 public holidays and 22 paid vacation days annually, another 15 to get married and extra days for a birth, death, hospitalization, a 16-week paid maternity leave, 2 days for paternity, and 18 paid consecutive months for an illness.
In the following chart, you can see that the number of paid vacation days and holidays in most OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries seems rather high when compared to the U.S.
The Bottom Line: U.S. Vacation Time
While the United States has no laws that require paid vacation days, according to The Economist, we take an average of 15 vacation days and 10 holidays off each year. Recently though, we seem to be taking fewer days off. Compared to 1976 when 80% of the labor force took a week’s vacation, today the proportion is closer to 56%. Similarly, an Expedia survey indicated workers used 10 out of 14 vacation days each year.
Trying to explain why, studies indicated that where vacations are the law, people took them. And yet, in the U.S., at firms like Netflix where vacation time is unlimited, few people take any time off.
Our bottom line: I wonder if vacation attitudes in the U.S. reflect the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Related to game theory, the Prisoner’s Dilemma explains how your behavior is based on what you expect someone else to do. If you predict a co-worker will not take some time off, then, fearing disapproval from a boss and your associates, you will not take any either. Add that to a work ethic that is a social norm and the happiness that Americans say they derive from work, and you have less vacation time.