Early in the cold war, there was a missile gap. In the late 1950s, America was threatened by the perception that the Soviet Union possessed superiority in the size and number of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Turns out the fear was unjustified, as President Eisenhower’s science advisory committee greatly overestimated the Soviet arsenal.
What threatens us now is a celebration gap. Actually, it’s a get away from work to relax gap. The Fourth of July is here. Most get off work to be with family and friends so we can celebrate our independence from the rule of King George. The problem is, when it comes to celebrations we’re a bunch of pikers. We have ten federal holidays, which are usually matched by states but we have no national holidays where all workers have an expectancy of time off – paid or otherwise.
In most of the world, the civilized world with the sole exception of the United States, laws afford workers a guaranteed minimum number of paid National holidays. Leading the world is arch enemy Iran with twenty-seven paid holidays. Most of Europe guarantees somewhere between ten and twenty days.
But it gets worse (or better depending on your perspective), not only does much of the world guarantee paid holidays, they also mandate vacation time. This is most commonly two to three weeks on top of the holidays. France is instructive, where all full time employees are guaranteed five weeks of vacation in addition to twelve national holidays. Oh, and they have thirty-five hour work weeks. Remember this is all full time employees, not just government employees but butchers, bakers and candlestick makers.
Should we Make America Vacat(ion) Again? Is there an advantage to taking time off or does it distract from productivity? There is significant evidence that worker productivity is better when interspersed with paid time off. One study showed that employees and were in a better mood and more effective in their jobs for over a month after a paid vacation. Another study showed that vacations increased net productivity and lowered stress.
Americans don’t get it. Almost forty percent don’t take a single vacation day in a years time. Even when vacationing, sixty percent take work with them. One of the longest-running collective studies of health, the Framingham Heart Study began in 1948 showed a positive correlation between vacation time and well being and longevity.
When compared to other nationalities such as Europeans, we work longer hours, spend less time with our friends and family, only to live shorter less fulfilling lives. Somewhere we seem to have lost our way.
Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.