Americans take fewer days off than the Japanese, Chinese, British and all continental Europeans. Journalist Joe Robinson, founder of the group Work to Live, which advocates more generous vacations and a U.S. minimum paid leave law, is trying to change that.
Are work hours in the United States getting longer or shorter?
Longer. Almost 40 percent of Americans are working 50 hours a week. And as for vacations, people may have two weeks or a week on paper, but many don't take it. There's too much pressure to stay on the job. Some companies have eliminated vacations completely.
But can't hard work be a source of pride?
I hear that all the time: "That's what makes this country great." It is a myth we have tricked ourselves into believing. The Dutch, the French, the Norwegians, the Belgians and the Irish are more productive per hour than we are, even with their four- and five-week vacations. We are number one in terms of productivity per person only because of all the overtime we do. And that's the number we count.
But isn't that the most important number?
It depends on your values. What is a gross national product when you don't have a life? A few years ago, the Norwegians found that they were 14 percent more productive than we are. So they elected to take more time off.
Are we really so different from the rest of the world?
Within the past year England added a week to its annual vacation policy. New Zealand added a week the year before. The Chinese have three weeks—Golden Weeks. Americans have a suspicion of leisure that goes back to the Puritan work ethic: idle hands are the devil's hands.
Wouldn't a minimum paid leave law suppress wages and make things more expensive?