Americans work way too long and too hard.
According to the Economist, it’s impossible to do business in August. It’s not just France, famous for everyone taking the month off, but Germans and Norwegians and the Dutch do it too, which is hard on the construction industry “because demand is strong and summer is the best time to build in a wet country. Even some police stations are shut in August. Presumably crime takes a break, too.”
As this table from a study by Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt shows, Americans have by far the least amount of time off. According to one employment lawyer, that's because “American law requires no paid holidays, consistent with their philosophy that most employment terms should be left to ‘bargaining’ by employees and employers.” We can see how that turned out.
I have always wondered why Europeans took vacations at the same time, thinking it was due to summer heat and lack of air conditioning, but according to the Economist, there is another reason:
The practice of collectively taking July or August off dates from the Industrial Revolution, when it made sense to send off all assembly-line workers simultaneously. In England’s north entire factories used to descend on the same resorts. As any tourist who has found themselves in front of an ice-cream shop that is closed during a sizzling southern European summer will know, it has spread beyond factory jobs.
Where I live in Ontario, Canada, the government has added a few holidays; as I write this, people are celebrating “Civic Holiday” (called Simcoe Day in Toronto because really, the official name is so dull), added to give everyone an extra long weekend in our extra short summer. They threw “Family Day” into February because it was so long between New Year's and Good Friday.
One would think that productivity would take a hit with all these vacations, but according to the Economist, that’s not true:
Though Europe’s appetite for summer holidays is easy to mock, of the ten most productive countries in the world (judged by per-hour productivity) only one—America, in fifth place—is not in Europe.
Perhaps it’s because, as Katherine has written, Vacations will make you happier, healthier, and more creative.
The Economist concludes that the European summer vacation's time is past; that employees want more flexibility, but more importantly, "Firms that trade globally have had to adapt to demand from those parts of the world—especially Asia—that do not slow over summer and that expect someone in Europe to answer the phone." That would be a shame and possibly counterproductive. I found when I handled an architectural practice that I got little done in August; although there were no formal holidays, my clients were gone, consultants were gone, it was all informal and it meant a huge hit in productivity. It might have been better if we all just formalized it and closed down like they do in Europe.
I suspect that as our readership skews American and young, that not many people reading this are getting much vacation this summer. What about you?