We are America. We are the nation that leads all nations. We are the nation dedicated to the idea that we must work hard in life to get the things we want. We are the most powerful nation. Pause. We are the overworked. We are the stressed. We are a nation of tired, obese, health riddled individuals. In a world of balance, we, the greatest nation on earth, have none.

The above paragraph is a summary, not one of facts, but of opinions. With plenty of facts to unfortunately back the substance of these statements, it brings concern that we are at our limits. Maybe you agree with all of these statements, maybe just a few. But at the very least, the guess is that you can agree with one. We are a nation of the overworked. And in that statement, the result holds even more truth. We are under-vacationed.

In my earlier post, I mention the battle we Americans face when it comes to taking time off. The American dream is quite clear. Get a job, support your family and yourself, and enjoy being a part of a nation that strives for greatness. But beware. For in that greatness lays one very unfortunate reality. Americans are not afforded the rest and relaxation to continue working at such a high level. Over the course of several weeks I will highlight various nations to peer into their views of work and life balance and of course vacations.

“The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday.”  USA Today 6/8/2013

Germany Encourages Vacations

Germany. A friend, an enemy. And again, a friend.  Although our relationship has always been a bit complicated, Germany has become a pillar of the European community with its work ethic and ability to engage the German worker. With an unemployment rate of only 4.2% as of June 2016, that continues to fall, there is reason to celebrate in this country. And maybe, as it relates to the American worker, worth emulating. Blasphemy!! I can both sense it and feel it from those of you reading. But, let’s look a bit closer and offer a comparison.

Photo Courtesy- Beer Stefan

Photo courtesy Beer Stefan

Germany pays special attention to the outside life of their workers. Yes, it’s true; they actually do believe their workers have a life outside of their career. And they, gasp, encourage it! It’s true, whether it is flexible working hours or simply encouraging the use of vacation days, Germany allows a schedule to meet any worker’s needs. The United States is slow to accept practices that may inhibit what we perceive as normal working hours.

This article from businessculture.org goes into some great detail of the perceptions of both workers and employers in Germany that’s worth a read. It states that Germany mandates that workers receive a minimum of 24 working days of vacation. It goes on to say that many companies extend that to a full six weeks. SIX WEEKS…with pay! So what makes the American worker any different? There are many reasons for our lack of freedom with vacation days. One being that we Americans focus more on the work day itself and less on the work completed.  For instance, if you complete the work assigned to you in 6 hours rather than 8 hours, is it any less significant?

Where America Differs

Even in the financial services industry where I am employed, the focus is much more on the actual 9-5, then looking at it from a job completed standpoint. I am lucky to have more paid holidays than the average American worker, but even our emphasis is on time, not so much detail. With such long hours and little vacation time, one could even suggest that we are more inclined to invade personal into our business lives. If you must be at work for long hours, I must keep up with my social network at some point, right? Water cooler time is a necessity in the American worker’s day as a way to break the monotony of long hours and, of course, to complain.

The American Worker

Countless articles have also suggested Americans meet too much. Nothing seems to be accomplished in America by the solitary employee anymore. Even in my own experience, I can recall numerous occasions where we have scheduled meetings in our meetings. I meet with people literally every day and it could account for up to 40% of my work week. Sometimes it may be more, but rarely less. A common theme I hear from many of the white collar employees is that we could accomplish more if we met less. It all proves that America defines the worker differently than other countries, and in some ways, negatively.

The end result of a vacation is presumably less stress, more productivity and of course greater morale. It’s a recipe for success for those countries who encourage time off, but unsubstantiated for those who don’t. I’m interested to hear thoughts on this subject from others who may have a unique view into the German system or even want to vent on your own lack of days off. Regardless, keep working hard out there, but always play hard too!


Live Within Your Means, Travel Beyond Them!