In a recent article by CNN by A. Pawlowski discussed the disparity between the amount of vacation for Americans compared to other developed nations. Vacation time is federally mandated as workers’ rights in these other countries. I have lived in Brazil and Australia and have personally experienced the significant difference in vacation time, compared to that of the U.S. I have also seen the work ethic and productivity of people in those countries. It’s not what one would think.

In fact, Brazil is one of the fastest growing economies right now and they are tied with the largest amount of guaranteed time off (6 weeks) with Finland. Australia even offers long service leave in addition to the federally mandated vacation time that can easily drift into 8 weeks per year. Brazilians and Australians aren’t lazy and they are very productive.

I spend a lot of time going on about leadership, organizational culture and people engagement in my blog posts, tweets and Facebook status updates. I talk about things that can be done on a day-to-day basis that helps foster an environment to support all those things as well. One of the things where I see the U.S. really losing ground is in the area of having some quality down time.

We patronizingly throw around phrases like “work-life balance” and put together a few token gestures that, although helpful and needed, have all the impact of throwing a hotdog down a hallway. There are companies like Netflix who offer unlimited paid time off. I would venture that somewhere in the middle would work well for most companies.

The CNN article points to the U.S. being fourth in productivity placing it 2 spots behind Sweden who gives 5 weeks of annual leave to every worker in the country. I’m not so naive to think the only way to be productive is to have time off, but it is a significant contributor. If the work-balance thing has to be in play, let be more of a work-life blend.

People who can have time off without the guilt and fear of not being committed will come back rested and energized for their work. Don’t have them surgically attached to their Blackberry while on vacation. Maybe you could say everyone leaving on vacation has to leave their work smartphone in a lock box while they’re away. That means no emails!

Whatever you decide to do, don’t wait for some federal regulation to make it happen. Give your people time off and don’t get your nose out of joint if they want to take 2 consecutive weeks off work to hang out with family. They will return refreshed and it will build amazing loyalty. Working ourselves without the freedom of personal time isn’t healthy and is obviously not any more productive than working your guts out.

So improve your competitiveness by taking a nice vacation completely unplugged. Your bottom line will thank you for it!

  • I’m really glad to read this. Society teaches to make fun of people like the Spanish and the French because they have midday breaks and they don’t “stay on task.” Yet, if you look at the general mental and emotional health of the people in those countries, they’re happier all the way around. I think it’s important that people get more downtime from work. I found that when I worked 4 of the 7 days a week at one job, it allowed me to go back to work refreshed and ready to work. Thanks for posting this!

  • Thanks for sharing your personal experience Tim. It’s sad and frustrating that the idea of 4 weeks vacation per year from year one has developed as a sign of laziness in our culture. Who stays at a company long enough to accrue 4 weeks vacation time anymore? I appreciate your contribution!

  • Alejandro Clavel

    Great article William. I think that productivity not necessarily means to be working all the time, but working efficiently and with a relaxed mind, which leads to better results. A tired/disgruntled/unmotivated worker is prone to bad results. Countries like the US copy models from other countries in terms of production lines, methodologies or problem solving. Maybe the European work-life balance is something to be followed as well. Saludos!

  • Very salient point my friend. Thanks for your contribution!

  • William Powell-
    Began my morning reading this post which I tweeted out right before sleep. I work for myself, and truly my own boss, the buck stops with me and I am the person to whom I am accountable. The ‘spin’ you put on your tweet carrying the link to this post was one I couldn’t resist, since throughout the day what had been on my mind was along the lines of -‘You need a vacation!’-I can truly say I do not take one day of the year ‘off work’-Going to the dentist to have a wisdom tooth extracted yesterday seemed like a vacation!
    ‘Sometimes I think I just try too hard’ is a thought that recurs these days.
    Your post is useful to me at this point, and for that I thank you for having written it.

  • Thanks for sharing your personal experience. Lack of vacation seems especially true for self-employed people. A lack of downtime actually diminishes what can be accomplished. I appreciate your contribution Wayne….and take a vacation!