Do You Need More Time Off? – Vacation Time in the U.S. Vs. Other Countries

Around the world, Americans are known for their solid work ethic.

Here in the United States, we place a premium on hard work.

However, that might actually be detrimental to us.

If you are looking for a good work/life balance, the fact that you leave an average of 11 vacation days on the table (according to CNN Money) could be a bad thing.

It might even reduce your productivity level.

vacation time for employees

How Does U.S. Vacation Time Stack Up against Other Countries

We take much less vacation than other countries.

In fact, many countries require companies to give a certain number of paid vacation days for employees with 10 years of services.  The United States isn’t one of those countries, but China is (10 paid vacation days).  Other countries include the United Kingdom, with 28, and Japan with 20.

Even though the United States doesn’t require companies to provide paid vacation, there are plenty of companies that offer paid vacation days, or at least the option to take personal time off.  However, when you compare the United States with many other countries, the gap still remains.  Even though they aren’t required to, many companies in other countries provide plenty of vacation time, whether it’s paid or not.

Every year, Expedia commissions Harris Interactive to put together a survey of vacation time taken by countries around the world.  Many might be surprised to learn that Germans earn about 30 vacation days a year, and the vast majority of those days are taken.  Since Germany is perceived as one of the more productive and stable countries, it appears that vacation doesn’t mean inherent laziness.

Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and India all blow the United States away as well (although in India more vacation days are left on the table).  It seems as though countries that repeatedly make the list of happiest countries in the world (think Nordic countries) also have a large number of vacation days — and they use them.  The United States doesn’t make the top 10 — although it is number 12.

Perhaps, if Americans took a little more time off, they would be happier.  We could enjoy greater work/life balance, and perhaps even be more productive.

Can More Time Off Lead to Better Productivity?

According to some studies, 35-hour workweeks mean more productivity.  Think Germany (again).

Germany is among the most productive countries in the world, and its workweek is shorter than the “official” 40-hour workweek in the United States, and there are more vacation days involved.  While the United States beats out Germany, the United States doesn’t beat out Norway, which repeatedly ranks high in terms of vacation, happiness, and productivity.

The lesson is that you don’t have to sacrifice productivity when you take more time off.

A few years ago, a Harvard business school professor, Leslie A. Perlow, led a study that discovered that predictable (and forced) time off led to increased productivity.  Numerous studies have been conducted on the importance of vacations in reducing stress and anxiety, and on improving your level of productivity.

Americans are stressed out, and work a lot.

As a result, between the commute and doing work at home after business hours are over, and even taking our work with us on vacation, quality of life is affected.  Even if your productivity doesn’t dramatically improve when you take time off, you can improve your quality of life.

Is Quality of Life More Important than Money?

In my own life, I see that quality of life can be more important than money.

Every year or so, I find that my client workload has increased to the point where I am frazzled, stressed, and unhappy.  I may be making more money, but I’m also frustrated with my life.  When I re-evaluate my work time, and cut clients, I usually feel better.  I might be making a little less money, but I have time to spend with my family, and time to spend doing the things I like best.

Plus, I have the time to actually enjoy the money I’m making.  I’d rather be able to do more with the money I have, than pile up a cash hoard but never be able to use it because I’m too busy working.

What do you think? Do Americans need more vacation time? Would you rather have a better quality of life, even if it meant a little less money?

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Published or updated September 2, 2013.


  1. I totally think we’d benefit from more vacation time. I see it as a combination of factors really, but do not see it changing any time soon. I think that it would generally increase the quality of life and likely reduce the stress level of many.

    • Glen Craig says:

      I agree. We have this corporate mentality where more is considered more so employers think it’s a good thing to have employees work more. But the truth is I think we get burnt out pretty quick and worse yet you start to resent your work.

  2. I think more vacation time is important, and so would a shorter work week.

    • Glen Craig says:

      For us with kids, the weekends are never long enough. We spend a good part of the weekend running errands and such that there’s not enough time to unwind. One extra day off can make such a difference.

  3. Number of vacation days is part of the problem, but being allowed to take them and actually enjoy them is important too. A lot of people who are lucky enough to be allowed to use the vacation days they earned are expected to be tethered to our email the entire time.

    • Glen Craig says:

      This is especially true with smartphones and light laptops. Even when an employer doesn’t explicitly say you need to be connected you may feel pressure to be “close by.”

      I’ve also found that at some jobs it can be difficult to get blocks of days off or get the days you want. There was a time when I was in management and I had some decent vacation time. This was I could only take the time off if my higher up was in and my support staff were all there to cover for me. Taking a day off was like playing Tetris trying to fit all the pieces together.

  4. As a teacher, I have more time off than I ever had in private industry. Teaching is more exhausting than regular work, but I am not sure it makes me more productive. My profession is not respected or paid well. I am not complaining because I chose this career after very lucrative career choices.

  5. If you want to have European work hours, most employers will happily accommodate you. Of course, you have to take European-level salaries (read: much lower, even before taxes). That’s the rub–most Americans are under the impression that it’s possible to get European benefits and keep American pay, tax rates, etc. Not possible.

  6. I especially agree with you about quality of life. At the end of the day, no amount of salary can compare with lost time with family.

    I don’t see this changing because of the job market. I think a lot of people are afraid to take the days given to them by companies because they are afraid the companies will see them as unnecessary. So even though there may be evidence of better productivity with less hours, I don’t think American work culture will change.

    • Glen Craig says:

      It’s hard in a tough economy to try and get more time off without painting a target on you come budget cut time. I think the shift needs to come from management and they need to realize that more hours a week isn’t always going to help. I think there are some companies out there, like Patagonia, that allow their employees flexible time. Hopefully the trend will continue.

  7. Why don’t you tell about the country with the most Time vacation in the world and one of the most productive : France.

  8. Hell no I don’t want any more vacation time. I don’t use what I get anyway, and I have several months worth of sick leave that I have accumulated over the years. Work is my refuge FROM my family.

    • Glen Craig says:

      I’m hoping you’re one of those that just loves what he does? Personally I’d much rather spend time with the family.

  9. You Americans are already lazy enough! Haha kidding.

    I think that vacation is important. I believe that every person should at least take one week all-inclusive getaway per year. I’ve seen this do wonders to people of all ages, from friends my age to older friends in their 50s who just needed to let loose.

    • Glen Craig says:

      For sure there are those that go to work with an entitled attitude and are indeed lazy. It’s hard to make an argument for more days off when you aren’t putting your all in when you work.

      And yes, being able to shut everything out for a bit does a lot to recharge.

  10. Miranda: As self-employed solo entrepreneur, I am having “vacation” and working at the same time, all the time! 😉 I am from Sweden and here it is common practice (as an employee) to have 3-5 weeks vacation in a row during the summer time. My long-range goal is to create a lifestyle and workflow so I can have several mini-vacations during the year, spreading out the relaxing time so I can charge my batteries on a regular basis and not only at one point in time.

  11. Yes I think we need more vacation time! Retail is the absolute worst for this, requiring employees to work around every single major holiday.

    I’m in another field now that is very generous in giving 10 days vacation after just a year of service, but they make it hard to get time off, paid or unpaid.

What Do You Think?