Relax: America Isn’t (and Won’t Be) Europe

When I tell people it’s my job to encourage Americans to take vacation, I typically get one of two reactions:

  1. That’s great. We really need it.
  2. This is America, not Europe.

If you fall into the latter camp, let me reassure you, America is not—and never will be—Europe. Here’s the secret: we only need to be the U.S., 15 years ago!

The decline in vacation is a relatively recent phenomenon. We took the same amount of vacation for decades, but in 2000, we started to see a precipitous drop.

There’s an assumption that our vacation-deprived habits are the product of the American work ethic. The American work ethic has always been strong, but we haven’t always skipped vacations because of it.

Somewhere in the last decade and a half, our work ethic has transformed to work martyrdom. But vacation doesn’t diminish an employee’s dedication or value to their company. If anything, it improves it. P:TO found that employees who are supported by their boss in taking vacation are happier with their job and their company. That happiness is a predictor of higher rates of productivity and creativity. Further, 91 percent of managers believe their employees return from vacation recharged and ready to work more effectively.

It’s easy—and lazy—to brand vacation a “European thing,” not in-line with America’s hard-charging work culture. But vacation matters to Americans, and dismissing it as trivial is a mistake. The overwhelming majority (95%) of workers say that their time off is important to them. A Monster Insights survey on employee benefits placed vacation as the second-most important benefit, just behind a health plan, but well ahead of a raise, bonus, or retirement plan. That’s the power of vacation—for the employees and companies that are smart enough to use it.

Changing America’s vacation habits isn’t going to make us Europe. It’s going to make us a more vibrant, innovative, energized country. 

Note: The data and statistics referenced in this post have been updated since we originally published this post. Learn more about the State of American Vacation 2017.

August 22, 2016