A lot of American companies move their labor offshore to save on costs. But there is one expense that is greater in almost every other country: paid vacation.
Of 62 countries studied by Mercer, a human resources research and consulting organization, the U.S. is the only country without any statutory paid leave. Western Europe, unsurprisingly, offers the highest amount of paid time off; the U.K. government mandates 28 days, and France, Greece, Denmark, and many others follow closely behind at 25. Portugal ranks near the bottom with 21 days paid vacation, but it supplements that with 13 public holidays, which are also paid. That's over a month a year.
Multinational countries are likely to look farther east than Germany if they go offshore. But Eastern Europe is pretty much a nonstop holiday compared to the United States. Poland gets 26 days. Serbia and Slovakia both get 23 days, plus eight and 15 public holidays, respectively.
Latin America is the United States' fastest growing trade partner, and many American companies have flocked south in the last couple decades. But even there, employees get ample fully funded rest. Mexico has 16 paid vacation days, plus 7 public holidays. Peruvians and Venezuelans get 22 and 24 paid vacation days, and 12 public holidays. Colombia gives all employees 15 paid vacation days, and has public holidays on 18 extra days of the year.
Look almost anywhere in the world, even countries that don't have the best labor protections by American standards, and they're trumping the U.S. when it comes to mandatory paid vacation: Pakistan, 14 paid vacation days; the Philippines, five vacation days and 15 public holidays; Lebanon, 15 vacation days and 16 public holidays; China, 10 vacation days and 11 public holidays.
Every country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) gets at least 20 days of paid vacation, except for Canada (18 days), Japan (10), and of course the United States, with our impressive zero.
In 2009, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) introduced a "Paid Vacation Act," which would, if successful, have required companies with more than 100 employees to offer one week of paid vacation time to all workers who have been there for at least a year.
"We were attacked for that as if we were advocating the end of human civilization," says John De Graaf, the national coordinator of the advocacy group Take Back Your Time, who helped Grayson draft the bill. It found only five Democratic co-sponsors.
"Despite continued economic turmoil, interest in the issue work/life balance continues to grow," says Lorna Friedman, a partner in Mercer's Global Health Management practice. "From the employees' and company's perspective, health creates wealth. Companies recognize that a healthy, happy workforce is a productive one and this feeds directly into the bottom line."
This issue has perhaps never been more important than now, when so many Americans are shouldering the workload of their laid-off colleagues, and pay raises are in short supply. A few extra days of paid vacation is a relatively affordable way to boost employee morale and productivity.
When Glassdoor asked 2,500 adult Americans what perk they would most like this holiday season, more paid vacation was the third most popular response, behind a cash bonus and a raise. Rusty Rueff, Glassdoor's career and workplace expert, said he's never seen paid vacation rank so high.
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