By: Richard Coad [MDB Chief Creative Officer]
The workforce of the United States has always been known for its "nose to the grindstone" approach. We have always been ranked as one of the most competitive countries in the world. However, while U.S. workers average longer hours than those in other countries, most receive only ten days vacation each year. By comparison, European countries offer more than 30 vacation days a year and shorter hours.
The logical conclusion would be to say U.S. productivity far exceeds that of our European friends.
On the contrary, despite longer vacations and shorter hours, some European countries are more productive than the U.S. Countries like Belgium and the Netherlands offer employees between 28 and 30 vacation days a year and they are 2% more productive than U.S. workers.
One could argue that more vacation time has a positive effect on productivity. Does that mean less vacation has a negative effect?
Studies have shown that men who do not take regular vacations are 32% more likely to suffer from heart attacks, and women are 50% more likely. Research has also shown that a restful vacation can help reduce stress for up to five weeks after returning to work. Vacations also strengthen relationships with loved ones and help people be more creative in the workplace.
Interestingly enough, a survey by a Philadelphia based management consulting firm, Right Management, showed that about two-thirds of U.S. employees aren't using all of their allotted vacation time. This may have something to do with the current economic state. People may feel that if they take time off, they risk losing their jobs.
To combat this statistic, some companies are allowing employees to take as many vacation days as they feel they need. The theory here is that workers feel they have more control, thereby increasing workplace morale.
Okay. Let's just assume for a moment that everyone takes vacation time. Unfortunately, some people don't really get into the vacation state-of-mind even when they're out of the office, opting instead to take work with them. Some believe the company will fall apart without them. Others fear getting too far behind in their work.
One particular workaholic, Bryan Robinson, a psychotherapist and author of "Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children and The Clinicians Who Treat Them," hid his work when he went on vacation so his family wouldn't take it away from him. He'd feign exhaustion to avoid group activities, then "work furiously while they were gone and pretend to sleep when they returned."
Many resorts and hotels are attempting to save workaholics like Robinson from themselves. Offering to lock up smartphones in a safe, hotels are making it easier for those on vacations to de-tech and actually leave work behind. One Chicago hotel received over one thousand thank-you letters after their first year offering this service.
So, what's the answer? Certainly, general research says vacations generally help people. They decrease worker burnout, increase productivity and improve morale. But there will always be exceptions, as well as exceptional people who defy the norm and happily take productivity to new heights. With or without planned vacations.