Imagine lying on a sunny beach on vacation, soaking in the salty ocean air. Then, someone’s phone rings. A man answers it, sighs, and gets up to head back into work. Well, chances are that man is an American.
“The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require payment for time not worked, such as vacations, sick leave or federal or other holidays. These benefits are matters of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee’s representative),” according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
While this piece of legislation was crafted to allow flexibility and personal choice in the workplace, it may very well be killing us. The United States continues to be the only industrialized nation without legally mandated annual leave. As a result, Americans are working longer hours than their counterparts in the developed world.
Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers. Despite the longer hours, American companies continue to lose millions due to inefficiency in the workplace, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).
This inefficiency is, in part, caused by the health problems associated with overworking. Stress from work can release a hormone called cortisol with heart damaging effects. Too much of this hormone can increase one’s risk for stroke, coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, according to healthline.
With that being said, many people struggle to merely survive the 9-5 routine’s toll on their body, let alone get any work done. Lack of time off coupled with stressors from the workplace can drive people to the point of minimalicy. In other words, they’ll only do what is required of them since they are forced to work longer.
Taking time off signals a lack of commitment to many American employers. Research indicates that many Americans who receive time off still don’t take it because of workplace pressures. Many employers express preferential treatment to those who work longer hours, further discouraging Americans to take their essential vacations, according to a BBC commentary on the issue.
Unfortunately, the problem is rooted deep into the American way of life and can’t be fixed with legislation alone. It’s safe to say that money is a big part of our culture. Many Americans value monetary success and associate it with happiness, forcing them to work longer hours despite exhaustion.
Given current media coverage, Americans have a construed perception of acceptable circumstances and tend to believe they are lazy if they ask for better conditions, especially after being compared to countries with more lenient labor laws such as Mexico and China.
This mindset of ruthlessly letting people go for minor instances, like taking time off, is toxic and counterproductive. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Federally mandated paid leave would have many benefits in the workplace most notably, increased productivity and sharpness.
To see the effectiveness of paid leave, look no further than Europe. The European Union’s (EU) workers are guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year according to the EU’s Working Time Directive. To the surprise of most Americans, this additional time off doesn’t translate into lower productivity.
In 2015, nine of the 10 most productive countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), measured by GDP per hour worked, were in Europe. In this ranking the United States came in sixth. Five countries with more time off than the U.S. still ended up being more productive.
Vacations are vital for replenishing the body and sharpening the mind. When we escape our routines, we gain a changed and healthier sense of thinking. Vacations can also lead to innovation in the workplace. Many creative ideas come out of people who escape their day to day.
It’s time for us to stop letting greed and uninformed employers get in the way of our well-being. As Americans start to take more vacations, employers will need to humanely adjust their standards. Congress do you hear us? We need a break.