European Vacation

by on June 22, 2012 at 9:07 am in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

From the NYTimes:

For most Europeans, almost nothing is more prized than their four to six weeks of guaranteed annual vacation leave. But it was not clear just how sacrosanct that time off was until Thursday, when Europe’s highest court ruled that workers who happened to get sick on vacation were legally entitled to take another vacation.

I predict more people will be getting sick during their vacations.

The case originated in Spain but applies to all the European Union.

Hat tip to the author, Paul Geitner, who ends with this line, “The ruling does not apply to the 25 percent of the Spanish labor force that is currently unemployed.”

1 Luis Enrique June 22, 2012 at 9:11 am

** prays the UK hasn’t got an opt out on this one **

you may laugh my Yankee friends, but we are ON HOLIDAY (yipee!) and you are at work.

2 anon June 22, 2012 at 9:29 am

No one is laughing.

However, you are so screwed….

3 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 10:16 am

Shrug. Enjoy your reduced pay.

4 tgrass June 22, 2012 at 11:47 am

^Shrug. Enjoy your reduced gdp.

5 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm

That too.

It’s funny, this kind of thing is why these “generous” Euro welfare states are usually so much less productive than we are, they end up providing less absolute benefits than we do even though the relative portion of GDP they spend is higher.

6 Firionel June 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm

This is a rather dangerous non-sequitur. What you mean to say is

“they end up providing less _measured_ absolute benefits”

(which can reasonably be argued from the data) – but that is a rather meaningless observation in a situation where the subject at hand is explicitly a benefit that is not captured by conventional measurements.

7 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Not sure how that follows, regardless of whether vacation time is a benefit that can be measured, the associated reduction in GDP and consequent reduction in gov’t ability to provide cash/goods/services definitely can be measured.

8 The Original D June 23, 2012 at 6:31 pm

I was just in Vienna. If that’s what “less productive than we are” looks like, sign me up. For that matter I’ll also take Berlin or Prague.

9 TallDave June 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Prague is a beautiful city. One might hesitate at halving one’s living standards, though.

10 Yancey Ward June 22, 2012 at 9:17 am

I worked for 15 years for a German pharmaceutical firm, and my friends and family were envious of the vacation day package. The last year I worked there, I had 33 PTO days as a standard package.

On this ruling, it is absolute madness.

11 prior_approval June 24, 2012 at 9:06 am

Both this –
‘I predict more people will be getting sick during their vacations.’
and this –
‘On this ruling, it is absolute madness.’
show a most interesting perspective, particularly from the person that worked for a German company – because this has been German law for decades (certainly since I started working in Germany, two decades ago).

And yet, strangely, people here don’t need to ‘extend’ their vacation time – because sick time has nothing to do with vacation. That is a particularly strange American twist, which makes no sense to Germans. Much like the seemingly instant American resonse that everyone would take advantage of this would be hard for Germans to understand – being sick and taking time off is handled by your health insurance (they pay your wages if sick for more than a couple of days). And to get this handled, you simply go to any doctor you wish, have them fill in the form, and then have it processed.

What, do any of you seriously think that you don’t need to have at least a (free) doctor examination to claim the benefit? Or that people don’t get sick?

12 Euripides June 22, 2012 at 9:23 am

nice, here in the states I am looking forward to hopefully taking a “long weekend” at the beach this summer!
enjoy it European friends!

13 IVV June 22, 2012 at 9:25 am

Things I discovered when married to a German, but living in America:

-Vacations were nearly a thing of the past. For the first few years, it was expected to spend two weeks with family, then two weeks–oh, wait, we’re out of vacation, never mind.

-My wife had never heard of the weekender until moving here.

-The doctor at the spa: “You’re pushing too many things into the same time. To really get the health effect of relaxation, you should spend at least three weeks here–oh, wait, you’re American, never mind.”

On the other hand, I know people in America who do get four or more weeks of vacation–but then they can never use it, because if they were out of the office so many days, they’d be laid off in an instant.

14 Urso June 22, 2012 at 10:06 am

So bizarre how American companies offer x weeks of vacation then get pissed if you use it. Even more bizarre how coworkers will *brag* about how little vacation they take – one guy proudly informed me he hadn’t taken anything more than a long weekend in ten years. Congratulations, I guess.

Imagine if a company offered a job with a salary of $100,000, but it was understood that you’d only cash $80,000 worth of checks. That’s basically how US vacation time works.

15 Andrew L June 22, 2012 at 10:27 am

You like laying around like a loaf, some people like to work. Why demonize them? If you enjoy work, then “vacation” starts to feel like work.

16 Urso June 22, 2012 at 10:38 am

Hyperbole much?

Hey if you want to work through vacation, go for it. No one’s going to stop you. I don’t get the persecution complex though. I’m not familiar with anyone ever being forced to take a vacation kicking and screaming (except maybe by their wife).

17 Sbard June 22, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Many positions in the US with high level financial responsibilities are required to take at least one vacation a year of two continuous weeks to make it harder for them to commit fraud.

18 Careless June 23, 2012 at 12:00 am

except maybe by their wife

Indeed. Things worked better in my family when my mother realized that the stock market closed before lunch in Hawaii. Never took another warm weather vacation anywhere else after that.

19 Urso June 22, 2012 at 10:39 am

Also, if your idea of a vacation involves “laying around like a loaf,” you’re doing it wrong.

20 Doc Merlin June 22, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I freeking *HATE* vacation. Its so stressful.
I’d rather be doing what I love than being forced to spend time with relatives or be bored at a beach.

21 msgkings June 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Yes, those are the only 2 things one can do with vacation time.

22 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Plus, you get paid!

23 Doc Merlin June 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm


If I had vacation time (I’m the founder and president of the company so I don’t have any vacation time.) I’d probably be using it to do what I would do at work anyway. This is fun.

24 msgkings June 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Yes Doc, we get it, you’ve said so about 4 times in this thread. Doth protest too much?

25 dan1111 June 22, 2012 at 5:05 pm

@DocMerlin, by “what I do at work anyway”, do you mean commenting on blogs?

26 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Hey Doc, was your last Koch brothers check a little heavy too? I think it must be a fracking bonus.

27 Ricardo June 23, 2012 at 1:51 am

Well, you could “lay around like a loaf” or you could go on a scuba diving expedition in Southeast Asia, go trekking in the Himalayas, hike the Appalachian Trail (which wasn’t always a double-entendre), etc. In fact, I know people who have done these things — the weird thing is that very few of them are American. I wonder why?

28 Brian Donohue June 22, 2012 at 11:20 am

At some fairly low rung on the employment ladder, doesn’t vacation merely become “flex time”? When you get an extra week of vacation, your workload does not go down 2%.

29 Urso June 22, 2012 at 11:53 am

All the more reason not to freak out about vacations.

30 Brian Donohue June 23, 2012 at 9:49 am

But the article is talking about sick time.

In my experience as a small employer, some employees go decades without taking sick time, and others makes sure to take their full allotment of sick days each year. Generally, the latter group are on fairly low rungs of the employment ladder, and arguably, wages for these folks reflect this phenomenon. I get it.

Thinking of sick days as an entitlement, rather than as a contingent arrangement that doesn’t punish someone who becomes ill at some point, is the single clearest signal of being a slacker in my experience.

When the European Court of Justice embraces this childish perspective (someone mentioned Calvin and Hobbes below, which perfectly encapsulates this point: on behalf of all employees, woe betide employers!

I’m pretty sure this is the dot the author was connecting with his closing snark about 25% unemployment in Spain.

31 Rahul June 22, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I’d rather be paid for my output than my time…….

32 GW June 23, 2012 at 11:30 am

In Europe, you don’t have a contractually fixed amount of “sick leave”, you actually have to be sick or injured and under verifiable medical supervision. Vacation, on the other hand, is contractually set as time for the employee to rest and recover from ordinary work in order to return to that work at full strength, to the benefit of both employer and employee. This ruling simply clarifies that sick leave and vacation are two different things and that it is all the same whether a medically certified injury or illness occurs during work or on vacation, the employee and the employer should both have the expectation that the rest and recovery period still takes place. There are, no doubts, some abuses to the system, but there is no such thing, for example, as an unexcused “personal necessity” leave as there frequently is in the US, and it is by and large followed conscientiously. May I add that in Germany, for example, outside of a few industrial settings, very few employees work to a fixed clock and very rarely are employees ever paid or credited for additional hours worked, indeed the expectation is that most employees work overtime without compensation.

33 Brian Donohue June 23, 2012 at 4:46 pm

@ GW. You raise an interesting point. Are you, or anyone else, aware of data on the number of sick days taken by different groups of employees? Differences between Americans/Europeans/East Asians as well as public/private sector might, I think, be very illuminating.

34 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 11:51 am

one guy proudly informed me he hadn’t taken anything more than a long weekend in ten years. Congratulations, I guess.

The nerve of people, being proud of being more productive. Next they’ll expect to be paid more!

35 dead serious June 22, 2012 at 11:56 am

For a guy who posts as much as you do, you’re either unemployed or far less productive than you think other people should be.

36 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 12:15 pm

As has been explained before, I get giant checks from the Koch brothers for posting here.

37 msgkings June 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Don’t be mad, TallDave. Just accept that you are a Republican hack with ODS compulsively posting here all day every day and that we all see it.

38 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Thanks msgkings, your pleasant nonpartisan objectivity is always a breath of fresh air.

39 msgkings June 22, 2012 at 12:57 pm

You’re welcome. I’m a lot less partisan than you imply. I just enjoy pwning you.

40 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Yes, I am familiar with your rich fantasy life.

41 msgkings June 22, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Last word freak.

42 Beefcake the Mighty June 22, 2012 at 9:27 pm

“As has been explained before, I get giant checks from the Koch brothers for posting here.”

Really? Where can I sign up?

43 TallDave June 23, 2012 at 7:06 pm

You have to burn an effigy of Stalin beneath a copy of The Fountainhead at midnight on Hayek’s birthday while chanting “Free markets! Small government! Property rights!”

If all the proper rites are observed, the checks start coming the following Friday.

(There’s an alternate rite involving Mises and Friedman, but you have to burn the IRS code and nowadays that takes forever so no one does it anymore).

44 Urso June 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Sure, if your base assumption is that the primary purpose of life is to maximize economic productivity. Seems an odd definition of utility to me, but then de gustibus, etc. I just don’t see why people expect me to impressed, or why (more importantly) people expect me to feel the same way.

And make no mistake, in America you are “expected” to feel this way, just like in Europe you are “expected” to want to take lots of vacation. Although I do suspect that it’s easier for a European worker to work through his vacation, if that’s his wish, than it would be for the average American to negotiate for more vacation, even at a lower salary. I find it odd that my comment got two relatively hostile responses from people who seem to think I’m trying to take away their right to work long hours?

45 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 12:20 pm

You’re confused as to why people would value being more productive at work? You find that bizarre?

OK then.

46 Urso June 22, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Yes, but don’t misconstrue what I said. What I find odd is being proud of *being in the office every day* — work for work’s sake. Being productive isn’t working lots of hours and skipping vacations. It’s getting shit done, and getting out. The concept of “face time” as being inherently productive is absurd.

47 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 12:51 pm

There’s generally some correlation there. Your reaction is still a lot stranger than his pride in working hard.

48 MD June 22, 2012 at 1:06 pm

It’s not that you are taking away their right to work long hours. It’s that you are challenging the assumption that it’s better to work through the weekend than it is to take a three-day weekend with the family to see some national park one state over. People hate it when their basic values are questioned.

49 Sbard June 22, 2012 at 3:12 pm

I guess some people have the need to feel like they’re doing something with their time. As for myself, I only care about my productivity at work to the extent that the people who are paying me do.

50 The Original D June 23, 2012 at 6:35 pm

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your productivity if that’s what you value. but it’s a bit odd to judge others for having different values.

Also, from the comment there’s no evidence that guy is actually productive. Only that he shows up at the office.

51 RonF June 25, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Sure, if your base assumption is that the primary purpose of life is to maximize economic productivity. Seems an odd definition of utility to me, but then de gustibus, etc.

The base assumption is that the more value a corporation gets from your work, the more profit they make from your labor – and from that, the more they profit from your labor, the more they should pay you.

The reverse is also true – the less they profit from your labor, the less they should pay you. The issue that Europe faces is that corporations are expected to pay you as if they get more profit from your labor than they actually do.

52 Clinton June 22, 2012 at 12:06 pm

We must be working from different definitions of productivity. I always thought it had to do with how output per unit of time worked.

53 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 12:18 pm

You’re confusing “being more productive” with “having higher productivity.” One can produce more either by producing at the same rate for longer time or a different rate for the same time.

54 Clinton June 23, 2012 at 2:09 am

I’m not confusing them at all. I think you are.
You said “The nerve of people, being proud of being more productive. Next they’ll expect to be paid more!” in response to someone being proud of not taking leave. Should one expect to be paid more simply because they worked longer hours thus producing more? Or should one expect to be paid more because they have higher productivity?

55 TallDave June 23, 2012 at 9:56 am

Both, of course. Would you expect to be paid the same for one hours’ work as for ten?

The person is his example is likely salaried, so if he’s working more hours he might reasonably expect higher pay.

56 Clinton June 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm

You’re really stretching your point now. Why not just hire someone who is more productive (has a higher rate of productivity, which is, after all, what is commonly meant by productivity) and is therefore using less resources for the same output and give the extra cash to them? On several dimensions your proposition just doesn’t make sense.

As maguro says below “Seems obvious that generous minimum vacation laws and such effectively price the least productive workers out of the labor market. Hence the 25% unemploymeny rate”. I am not so sure it is as obvious as maguro says, but I tend to agree. This is the flip side of the same point.

57 TallDave June 23, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Because he isn’t consuming more resources — they’re salaried, remember? He gets paid the same whether he takes the vacation or not.

The thing you seem to be missing is that his per-hour productivity only matters if he’s paid by the hour. If he gets paid a yearly salary, he can increase his productivity as a function of his pay by working more — even if his per-hour productivity doesn’t change.

This is why it’s a corporate badge of honor to work a lot of unpaid overtime, as most C-level positions expect — you are giving more value to the company.

58 Clinton June 24, 2012 at 1:55 am

Alright TallDave, I agree that his productivity per year can be increased by not taking vacations. I also agree that a lot of people work view a lot of unpaid overtime as a badge of honour. In my own experience, those least likely to work a lot of unpaid overtime are on average the most productive per hour. This seems to vary a lot by location and profession/industry though.

Some anecdotes: I currently work for an Australian university. Our contracts allow us to claim annual leave days again following a bout of illness whilst on leave. That is, if you get sick whilst on vacation you can convert that time as sick leave and have your annual leave days reinstated. I havn’t done this myself, even though I have been sick whilst on vacation, and don’t know what proportion of employees do, though I suspect it would be small. 4 weeks annual leave plus holidays is typical in Australia across industries and sectors. A friend of mine is an engineer at a ship builder here in Australia. In his department they are instructed to work no more than 38 hours per week. Another works for a large investment bank in Switzerland where working on Sundays is strictly forbidden unless you have special permission. These rules go further than my liking but perhaps they are in part an attempt to put a stop to the corporate badge of honour seeking by simply working longer hours than ones colleagues.

Most Australians seem to take their annual leave but work a lot of unpaid overtime on a weekly basis. Christmas falls in summer here and that is definitely when most people take leave. Not much tends to happen in most workplaces between mid-late December and mid January.

59 TallDave June 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm

That’s probably true in a lot of cases. OTOH, if your career is C-track you’d better at least give the perception of being both!

I think one reason for the long hours is that it’s very, very hard to measure exec/C-level productivity so the proxies become more important. Even if you were an awesome exec who was worth 10x his pay working 10 hours a week (and that seems plausible), people would get upset.

60 Rahul June 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Is Urso’s anecdote really representative of America? Sounds more like corporate Japan.

I’ve never know anyone in the US brag about unspent vacations and most people seem to use all of theirs. As it is 2 weeks is what you get and not that hard to spend it.

61 AndrewL June 22, 2012 at 2:40 pm

in about 2.5 months I will reach the cap on max PTO hours accrued and I consider it a little but of a victory. If you can relate, it’s like playing one of those resource management video games and building up a lot of resources. The fun is in building it up, not necessarily spending it. I’m 300 hours out of a max 336!

62 prior_approval June 24, 2012 at 9:12 am

‘My wife had never heard of the weekender until moving here.’

They are called ‘Brückentage’, and your wife has undoubtedly heard of them –
‘Als Brückentag oder Fenstertag bezeichnet man Arbeitstage, die zwischen einem Feiertag und einem (zumeist) ohnehin arbeitsfreien Tag (Samstag oder Sonntag) liegen.’ One uses ‘bridge’ or ‘window’ day to described work days that are between a holiday and a (generally) work free day (Saturday or Sunday).’ückentag

What she would not have been familiar with is the idea of making a holiday part of a three day weekend – when the German holiday celebrated on Oct. 3 (or May 1, or Dec. 25, or Jan. 1) is on a Sunday, no one in Germany gets the Monday off. This is why the number of holidays per year in Germany is actually variable.

63 IVV June 24, 2012 at 9:15 pm

No, a Brückentag is not a weekender. A Brückentag is a long weekend.

A weekender is a trip that is designed to last the duration of the weekend, after which you go right back to work.

64 prior_approval June 25, 2012 at 4:22 am

Well, that explains ‘weekender’ – which is the sort of term which explains so perfectly all those TGV e-mail offers I get to go to Paris for a weekend, or how people will go somewhere skiing or visiting a city for a weekend, and thus use a Brückentag. Nobody I know seems to use a German specific term for what is a fairly commonplace thing for Germans to do. (Well, at least the Germans I know, many with children.)

I’ll admit to having guessed wrong as to the meaning of ‘weekender’ – as a native Northern Virginian, I’d never heard the term before. ‘Take advantage of a three day weekend’ is probably the closest, and obviously quite clumsy, formulation I can think of.

65 IVV June 25, 2012 at 12:04 pm

The difference I think of depends on the two-day weekend versus the three-day weekend. The three-day structure of travel, overnight, activity, overnight, travel made sense to my wife, but the two-day structure of travel, activity, overnight, activity, travel was something she was unfamiliar with.

She was from the former East Germany, though, where there are far fewer families, though, so that might have something to do with it.

66 Anton June 22, 2012 at 9:25 am

The ruling is actually not a big thing at all. In Germany and many other European countries this has been the case for decades, without everybody calling in sick during their vacations.

And it is in my opion also a perfectly reasonable decision. If there is a general consensus in society that employers bear the risk of employees getting sick, why should it matter whether the employee is at work or on vacation leave?

67 Hasdrubal June 22, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I’ve known quite a few people who don’t take all their vacation, there are a few reasons not to:

– The work doesn’t go away just because you’re on vacation. Your projects still need to get done on time, sometimes other people can pick up the slack and sometimes they can’t. And, depending on your team members, they might be able to pick up the slack but _really_ let you know that they aren’t happy about having to do your work as well as theirs.

– Scheduling is an issue. In support and sales jobs, you simply need to be staffed during business hours. If someone is taking vacation, that means someone else needs to come in on an off shift and work over time to cover for the missing person. It can be pretty hard to get people to fill in certain shifts, especially. (Anecdotally, I worked 6pm to 6am Thursday through Sunday and was the only person on that shift. Getting people to cover for more than a day or so was like pulling impacted wisdom teeth.)

– Aren’t European vacations, at least part of them, exogenously scheduled? As in, everyone in the company/market is taking a couple weeks off at the same time? Japan has Golden week like this. America doesn’t, people schedule their own vacations on their own schedules. As a result, it can be harder for the company to schedule work, especially when a lot of people are wanting to get vacation at the same time, like between Christmas and New Years. That makes scheduling vacations during optimal times hard for Americans, so sure, you have three weeks of vacation, but you can’t get more than a couple days during the prime vacation times, so some of it goes to waste. Who wants to take a week off in October?

– More true in the past, but still true sometimes now, is that you can roll over vacation from year to year. If you get two weeks of vacation, but only take one week of vacation a year, you can take a full month off every third year. Companies are changing this policy (see scheduling and work getting done above) which makes for interesting times during the change. “Yeah, you’ve got 300 hours of vacation available, you’re going to lose 220 of them if you don’t take them within the next three months. Have fun!”

As for getting canned for actually taking your vacation, I’ve only heard of that type of situation in two ways. Either you’re in a really competitive field where everyone else is not only skipping vacation but they’re also working 80 hour weeks, taking vacation makes you less competitive than your peers. The other situation is that you take all your vacation at once. American companies aren’t set up for people leaving for a month at a time, work doesn’t get done, deadlines get missed, Bad things happen. Managers are often lenient if it’s a one time thing, but you start looking less competitive when it’s a regular thing. There’s a world of difference between “I need to take a month off this summer for my once in a lifetime, dream tour of Europe” and “Hey! It’s time for my annual month long trip to Myrtle Beach, see ya!”

68 Beefcake the Mighty June 22, 2012 at 9:41 pm

“If there is a general consensus in society that employers bear the risk of employees getting sick, why should it matter whether the employee is at work or on vacation leave?”

Uh, don’t employees have to bear any risk in the world in which you live? Apparently not.

Some of you people are quite weird, I have to say.

69 derek June 22, 2012 at 9:38 am

Institutions, societies have a nasty habit of working as designed.

70 jacob June 22, 2012 at 9:40 am

this “law” has been common in the netherlands for a long time.

i curious about studies that try to calculate the optimal vacation length.

on a side note: i recently moved to the US (from the netherlands), and i have never seen so many people making so many unproductive hours.

71 Sbard June 22, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Check out Japan or South Korea for a real surprise. When I was studying in Japan, my host father would leave for work at 7AM and get back around 10PM. He wasn’t actually doing continuous work for 13 hours a day. Stuff like that is the norm there

72 Ricardo June 23, 2012 at 5:42 am

From what I’ve heard, it is in bad form for employees to leave work before their bosses and bosses want to appear serious and dedicated by working late. So the result is a sort of arms race where people at least appear to be busy into the night because nobody wants to be the first to clock out.

73 Rahul June 22, 2012 at 1:54 pm

I think Europeans often mistake the fact that Americans mix work and play for non-productivity. The work-life barriers in western Europe (Germany at least) at far more rigid. De gustibus and all that but to me the American way feels better.

74 dearieme June 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm

In what way, Jacob? What do they do with the hours?

75 Finch June 22, 2012 at 9:46 am

Are Americans and Europeans counting vacation days the same way? I’m American and I’ve never had less than 25 vacation days + holidays, not counting sick days (which were sometimes usable as vacation if you hadn’t previously claimed them). Right now I have 33 PTO days accrued per year, not counting a generously interpreted sick day policy. I often don’t use them all in one year, but I’ve never had them expire unused (they would be paid out as cash were that to happen). My balance is typically 15 days or so, which leads me to wonder about all those “Americans don’t use their vacation days! Wouldn’t socialism be nice?” articles you see. Do I count as someone who doesn’t use their vacation just because I’ve got a balance on the books at the end of the year?

76 Tom West June 22, 2012 at 9:52 am

I suspect you count as someone who is part of the 1% vacation-wise :-). I’d be a bit iffy about generalizing your experience to most American workers.

77 IVV June 22, 2012 at 9:54 am

I used to have a total of 20 PTO days, which was both my sick and vacation days. In addition, I received 10 holiday days.

I was laid off from that job earlier in the year. I replaced it with consulting work on a temp basis, and although I still have the 10 holidays, I receive no vacation time, being paid hourly and not on a permanent basis.

I will start a new permanent position in a week, and I will receive the 10 holidays, and 10 vacation days. Another 5 days are available for sick time, but I had better be sick to use them.

The European 4-6 weeks off do not count their sick time, or their holidays.

78 Non Papa June 22, 2012 at 10:02 am

The median full-time American worker receives about 20 days of paid vacation, 8 holidays, and 7 paid sick days after 20 years of service, according to the BLS. After one year of service, it’s about 10 vacation days, 8 holidays, and 6 sick days.

79 DK June 22, 2012 at 10:22 am

“Receives” there stands for “entitled to”. It does not mean people take all of them. Most in the USA don’t.

80 Finch June 22, 2012 at 12:08 pm

So it sounds like, contra-Tom West, I’m not the 1%, I’m just a little above median. I sure don’t feel like I’m particularly out of the ordinary in this respect.

Regarding DK’s point, I suspect “people don’t take their vacation days” is actually, like me, people not leaving a zero balance at the end of the year.

I’m not arguing that the US gets more vacation than Europe – clearly we get less. It’s just not as much less as people claim.

81 Tom West June 22, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Well, I’m amazed at the stats, but I guess I’m wrong. Perhaps I know very few places indeed that have people working in the same company for >10 years (high tech). That, and don’t know anyone working for the government. Over the last 25 years, the best I’ve done is 15 days + holidays.

82 DK June 23, 2012 at 12:22 am

Yes, people are not using as much as they in theory are allowed. I can’t afford to take 4 weeks that I legally have this year in the environment where no one ever is taking more than 10 days in a row. Only people in the USA that I ever met that use their vacation time 100% are federal and state employees. (One exception are universities – those are run as typical feudal fiefdoms).

83 DK June 23, 2012 at 12:35 am

Just out of curiosity looked at my official records (originally in hours, converted into 8 hour work days):
Legal Holiday Remaining Balance 2
Personal Holiday Balance 4
Vacation Available Balance 23
Vacation Carryover Balance 1

Seems like a solid month off (more with weekends!). Except that I am not even sure what these things mean exactly. There was never a reason to learn that.

84 GeorgeNYC June 22, 2012 at 9:58 am

Unbelievable. They lack so many basic freedoms over there like the freedom to work yourself to death.

Thank goodness we will see their economy collapse soon from all of this wasteful socialist spending.

Thank goodness we live in America where we have the freedom to die early from overwork trying to stave off bankruptcy from our medical bills.

What is your point with this? Are we to think that these types of rules are going to crater their economy? I would think as an economist you would see such regulation for what it is which is trying to establish a differ equilibrium point.

Oh wait but then they are not “competitive” with the world. Right. See we should all live at subsistence level wages so that the great captains of industry can fulfill their Randian utopia,

When things finally get out of hand here we will need to send every market fundamentalist to a work camp where they can “learn” the effects of their “competitiveness” arguments.

85 Colin June 22, 2012 at 10:26 am

GeorgeNYC 1 Strawmen 0

86 Doc Merlin June 22, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Work yourself to death?
I like what I do. If I wasn’t being paid to do it, I’d probably do it as a hobby.

It must suck to have to work at something you hate.

87 MD June 22, 2012 at 1:24 pm

“It must suck to have to work at something you hate.”

Oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

88 mkt June 22, 2012 at 8:11 pm

You keep making comments as if there’s something wrong with the people who like vacations and prefer not to be at their jobs almost all of the time. I suggest that labor markets do not (and cannot) create the rosy scenario that you find yourself living and working in, not for most workers. Take a look at proportion of workers who are doing tasks which are menial, repetitive, and/or lacking in intellectual stimulation.

89 Beefcake the Mighty June 22, 2012 at 10:14 pm

I suspect what he finds objectionable is the idea that because people may not love what they do, then (somehow) they’re entitled to more time off from it, and this sentiment oozes from the self-righteousness on display here.

Quite frankly, your objection seems to have less to do with American vs European vacation policies, than with the fact that much work is very un-fulfilling. But then you’re just railing against a fact of life, and I see no reason to take you seriously.

90 docmerlin June 23, 2012 at 3:43 am

Agreed. Hopefully robots will replace the less fullfilling jobs

91 mkt June 28, 2012 at 7:09 am

It’s indeed a fact of life that much work is very un-fulfilling. However it does not follow that therefore there is nothing to be done about it; it can be made less un-fulfilling. That’s not railling; that’s progress.

As far as vacation policies go, you’re correct that that was not what I was objecting to. I was objecting to the holier-than-thou attitude towards people who don’t love their work, the attitude that there’s something wrong with those people.

92 byomtov June 22, 2012 at 10:05 am

Ah yes.

Academics criticizing systems where the work loads are light.

93 Jon June 22, 2012 at 10:40 am

You have to remember that Tyler traveling all over the world basically year around is very, very hard work! Not to mention extremely important.

94 dead serious June 22, 2012 at 10:41 am


95 Rahul June 22, 2012 at 10:13 am

OTOH salaries for equivalent positions in Germany seem about 10-20% lower than American offers. That ought to compensate for the shorter vacation.

No free lunch….

96 Kevin June 22, 2012 at 10:19 am

I propose a public health study examining the emergence of a second flu season in the summer months in Europe.

97 vanderleun June 22, 2012 at 10:20 am

Yes, it is sad but true. Europe actually does need to die in a fire to come to its senses.

98 The Other Jim June 22, 2012 at 12:37 pm

That didn’t work in 1945, and it worked even worse in 1918.

Why should 2012 be any different?

99 Frank June 22, 2012 at 2:48 pm

The choice to be poorer is their’s to make. If societal preferences change, they know which knobs to turn to raise their productive capacity.

100 Jubal June 25, 2012 at 9:35 am

there are a few things you might want to educate about yourself first, mr vanderleun
– there is a reason why it’s unreasonable to require people to work longer than, roughly, 8 hours per day
– there is a reason why you need people to take days off
– there is a reason why you don’t want people to work while being on holidays

(also, this basically codifies what is a law in most EU countries anyway; while you Usians might find this unreal, there is extremely low risk of sudden flu outbreak during the vacation season)

101 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 10:24 am

Well, this will certainly be good for productivity!

102 Nylund June 22, 2012 at 10:32 am

When I was a boy, my mother would give me tight deadlines to my chores. I’d protest and say, “1 hour is not enough time to complete them!” She’d retort, “If I gave you two hours, you’d take two hours to do it. If I gave you 3, you’d take 3. The time it takes to complete a task is the time one has to do it. People always just barely make deadlines, no matter what those deadlines are.”

Obviously, this isn’t entirely true, but I think there’s truth in it. I often wonder if the US would actually get less done if we all took more vacation time, or if we’d just work harder during the time we actually do work. I agree with the previous comment that their are a lot of unproductive hours spent at work. I’ve worked at 6 or so companies and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an office where people are actually working the whole time. There’s long bouts of chit-chat, surfing the web, solitaire, extended lunch and bathroom breaks. I bet that in nearly any office, if the boss said, “You can go home as soon as your done with all your work,” you’d suddenly find offices pretty empty by 3pm with very little difference in output.

103 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 11:55 am

In some cases, yes, but in a lot of jobs there is a value to being available and a cost to not being available.

104 JonF June 23, 2012 at 12:21 pm

Which is God made cell phones and the internet.

105 RR June 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm

This is called Parkinson’s Law : “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”

106 maguro June 22, 2012 at 10:33 am

Seems obvious that generous minimum vacation laws and such effectively price the least productive workers out of the labor market. Hence the 25% unemploymeny rate.

107 Doc Merlin June 22, 2012 at 12:41 pm


108 Flattus Maximus June 22, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Actually +1000.

maguro wins not just the thread, but is front-runner for comment of the year. Whatever the merit of these laws, they function (in regards to low-productivity labor) in precisely the same way as a minimum wage law does.

109 prior_approval June 24, 2012 at 9:22 am

March 2012 German unemployment rate, according to American figures – 6.3 %

Germany has had this vacation/sick time regulation in place since at least the early 1990s.

110 jk June 22, 2012 at 10:38 am

The “lifestyle superpower.” United States of Europe, European Century, Europe’s greatest export, or whatever else was thrown around back in ’08 when the Euro was heading toward infinity and the American Peso cost more to print. Well the party’s over and Germans aren’t going to Greece this summer I assume.

111 Ajzak June 22, 2012 at 10:54 am

They are coming to Croatia in large numbers 🙂

112 as June 22, 2012 at 11:19 am

The last sentence of this post (and of the initial article) is quite revealing. There is a reflex among some people to equate any form of social protection with high unemployment.

The problem in Spain is its two tier labor market and its reliance on the construction sector but not this law. Countries such as Sweden show that you can have a high level of social protection without having inefficient labor market regulations.

113 Sleazy P Martini June 22, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Helps to have a high level of Swedes, too.

114 john June 22, 2012 at 11:21 am

I’m on mental holiday with the girl in the lower right corner.

115 Thor June 22, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Sure, but who’s paying for that holiday?

116 GeorgeNYC June 22, 2012 at 11:31 am

Here is what I do not get. Is the underlying snakiness to the post because we are all supposed to understand that these the of regulations are somehow irrational? Are we all supposed to just roll our eyes and go “Those silly Europeans! With rules like this no wonder that they have such high unemployment in their socialist paradise!” Is there any consideration as to whether their approach to vacation is based on a rational understanding of what is healthy for their population? Or are we just supposed to accept that any interference with the “market” cannot be anything other than incorrect? As if the “market” will all by itself maximize the health and safety of the population? Is that really the ideology that we have on display here?

117 Frank June 22, 2012 at 11:40 am

Employers are nimble enough to react to declines in productivity from a dearth of vacation time. They also know that productivity improves after vacations, so they often require some vacation time be taken in a given year. I speak for Canada of course, which is no Europe in this regard.

118 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm

What is the scientifically calculated rational amount of vacation to a 95% reliability? Is it the same for everyone?

As someone who would prefer to be paid more and take less vacation, I find it offensive that in Europe it would be illegal for me to do so, and the notion that the gov’t is going to tell me how much work I “should” because it knows better I do is just ridiculous.

Also, it is usually quite possible to get more vacation time in the U.S., you just have to accept less pay. I have co-workers who have done so, and my wife was given the option to work 32 hour weeks.

119 Andre June 23, 2012 at 5:51 am

This is the real distilled essence of the US. Not only must we have it our way at all costs, we must be offended by other people doing anything differently. Their decision to do things differently is a judgement on us you see, that can’t be allowed as we are right and they are dumb. And lazy. We can’t just have the last word, we must loudly have the last word. If people don’t shut up did we really have the last word? They must shut up!

120 TallDave June 23, 2012 at 10:00 am

If you made any kind of actual point in there I don’t know what it was.

121 Balsac, the Jaws of Death June 22, 2012 at 10:24 pm

I’m guessing the Starbucks in NYC have free Wi-Fi, and George is currently on break.

How’s that liberal arts degree working for you now, George?

122 commentariette June 22, 2012 at 11:53 am

This has been true for a while in lot of European countries; there was probably some EU directive that Spain ignored and got busted on.

BUT it’s important to note that European vacation is also very different from US vacation. The advantage of more time has to be paid for with much less flexibility about when to take vacation – that significantly reduces the overall loss of productivity.

Everything shuts down for a month (July in Nordic countries August on the continent). It simply doesn’t exist in the business calendar. That means meetings, deadlines, contracts etc are rarely disrupted – there was never any attempt to schedule them in the first place. And once some proportion of businesses and government services are essentially closed, it significantly reduces the cost of closing the others.

Business support services (marketing, event planning, print shops, lunch places, business hotels, etc) don’t lose any business, since there’s no demand. Local papers/trade rags/etc aren’t published – no ads, no readers. No day care/day camp, since hardly anyone is at work. Post offices or couriers close or on minimum schedule — there’s much less mail to deliver. Non-emergency government services close (e.g. libraries, building inspection) or have skeleton staff (no businesses filing business-related paperwork, no/few layoffs, etc). Public transit is on reduced schedule – no commuters. If there’s no construction or maintenance work, demand for building supplies goes down. Grocery or department stores may keep only one register open (shoppers aren’t in a rush) and dry goods might not be delivered/re-stocked. Small shops or restaurants might close altogether or go to very limited hours, especially in small towns…

So apart from emergency services (and most summers in most countries have some horror story) and tourist/vacation services – there’s little or no demand for labor and little incentive to provide it. (Students are a big source for whatever backup labor is needed – too poor to pay for a separate vacation, less than eager to spend a month with the ‘rents.)

In some ways vacation is more disruptive in the US – trying to figure out who’s going to be around when in June, July or August can reduce productivity. Even if many people are only gone for one or two weeks, it’s a different one or two weeks.

But I don’t see the US happily going over to a very regimented system like the Europeans – not least because it’s so large and the nicest vacation time varies so much in different parts of the country. But I don’t think you can efficiently have six weeks of vacation with very random distribution of times….

123 Sbard June 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I remember finding it puzzling to visit Rome in August and find that half the recommended restaurants in the guidebooks were closed.

124 Hans Orifice June 22, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Great comment.

125 JonF June 23, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Why aren’t service industries constrained by the fact that everyone else is on vacation and ready to party? Seems to me that with so many people off work restaurants, bars and a lot of retail would be doing a land office business. And don’t Europeans do home improvement projects when on vacation? surely they don’t just sit home and do nothing.

126 CG June 22, 2012 at 12:11 pm

The Japanese probably look at Americans the same way Americans look at Europeans.
Although unlike Europeans to Americans, Americans are more productive than the Japanese with the fewer hours they put in.

127 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Actually, the Japanese don’t work all that much as I recall. It’s the South Koreans who really break the curve.

The Russians apparently also work a lot, but you have to adjust that for how drunk they are, and I guess everyone just assumes the Greeks are lying.

128 Mark Thorson June 22, 2012 at 7:43 pm

I once worked on a research project where we had to get a critical material from our supplier in Japan. Every day mattered a lot. We had trouble getting in touch with our contact, and then we discovered it was Golden Week. We had never heard of Golden Week. The whole country goes on vacation. Nothing gets done. The earliest we could get any action out of them was the following week.

129 iain June 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Suprisingly Switzerland (not in the EU) already has such a law in place despite the Swiss deciding not to increase the minumum number of vacation weeks from 4 to 6 in a referendum just a couple of months ago. In my 20 years in the work place I have never used this option and never heard of it being used. Apparently it requires that a doctor decide that the illness was sufficiently serious to prevent the employee from being able to rest (which is the purpose of the vacation) during their vacation.

Why should we assume that in the EU this law will be abused when it doesn’t appear (in my experience) to be abused in Switzerland?

130 Doc Merlin June 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm

4 weeks of vacation? Man… I’d get so rusty. I’d hate that. Plus it would get stressful.

131 TallDave June 22, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Will it work as well in Greece or Spain, though?

I wonder if there’s any reporting on sick vacation time? I think it’s hard to bet against Tyler’s prediction…

132 Someone from the other side June 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I’ve used it – even without doctor’s confirmation of me being sick. But then again my company has somewhat relaxed PTO policies (though probably still less so than their very relaxed interpretation of when maximum legal working hours are reached, IOW, never)

133 Frank Youell June 22, 2012 at 7:42 pm

“Why should we assume that in the EU this law will be abused when it doesn’t appear (in my experience) to be abused in Switzerland?”

Questions like that always astonish me… Actually, they boggle the mind. National differences are tearing Europe to shreds as we speak and you are wondering how a law might work differently in Switzerland versus Spain, Greece, Italy, etc.

“Diversity” isn’t something for PC people to “celebrate”, it is reality that societies need to deal with.

134 prior_approval June 24, 2012 at 9:25 am

‘National differences are tearing Europe to shreds as we speak and you are wondering how a law might work differently in Switzerland versus Spain, Greece, Italy, etc.’

You did notice the part where the author mentioned that Switzerland is not part of the EU, and that EU law does not apply to Switzerland?

135 TallDave June 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm

I don’t think you noticed that the objection was to the laws’ content (apparently very similar) and how that content might have different effects in different countries, irrespective of whether it’s actually the same law administered by the same governing body.

136 Andrew Barnet June 22, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Ah, Europe… making kids’ fantasies come true since 1999 (at least):

Calvin: See, the Chicken Pox are gone.
Calvin’s mom: That’s good.
Calvin: Well, just remember that this week doesn’t count.
Calvin’s mom: Doesn’t count?
Calvin: Right. Summer vacation days don’t count if you’re sick. I get to start school a week later now, so I get my full allotment of vacation.
(Later.) Calvin to Hobbes: What’s the next Amendment say? I know it’s in here someplace.

137 Simon June 22, 2012 at 1:18 pm

The US is characterized by a strong calvinistic and puritanic culture. Work all day, don´t enjoy your life.

138 Doc Merlin June 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm

This is a false dicotomy.
In the words of a great american:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

139 Philip June 22, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I don’t see this making much difference, in the UK at least. I assume you’ll need a doctor’s not and not just be able to self-certify. If you’re abroad on holiday it is not going to be worth your time to get a sick note, I guess it might be if you know the system of where your and knowing the language might be important. If you are in the UK but in an area away from the GP you are registered with you would probably have to go to a drop-in centre to see a GP so again it’s not worth your time, you could get round this with private insurance but I don’t know how it would affect your premium. Anyway employers would not look well on it, if they think it is being abused you could mark yourself out as a shirker or troublemaker.

140 uffy June 22, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Oh look, a lot of opinions and very few facts.

141 srbaker June 22, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Will this serve to increase people trying odd street food in foreign countries without fear of food poisoning ruining their vacation days?

142 margda June 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm

how can one be sure that the people on vacation in the above picture are Europeans?

143 Stuart June 22, 2012 at 2:57 pm

They are too thin to be Americans.

144 dead serious June 22, 2012 at 3:00 pm

They fit into bathing suits? There aren’t huge tents and gigantic coolers strewn everywhere?

145 Roger June 22, 2012 at 6:38 pm
146 Alex June 22, 2012 at 9:48 pm

This is sick. Yes, people need vacation and why not give them more when they get sick?

This criticism comes from Americans who sit in their offices all their lives and think they are better than the rest.

The USA is the richest nation in the world and yet it takes forever to get health care to the people. People drown in New Orleans and you have people live in trailor parks. Get your junk together before you criticize nations that do better than you.

147 Cliff June 22, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Yes, how dare people live in small houses- none of those in Europe. How dare people die in natural disasters. Meanwhile, no one in Europe has a washing machine or dryer because they can’t afford them…

148 UnlearningEcon June 23, 2012 at 6:22 am

I have a washing machine that doubles as a dryer. Does that count?

149 Kobb Knobbler June 22, 2012 at 10:32 pm


150 TallDave June 23, 2012 at 10:02 am

Where did you get this odd notion that the U.S. has higher healthcare wait times?

151 Faria June 22, 2012 at 11:52 pm

How much more intersting would be a world more like southern Europe: productive and educated enough to produce a good amount of wealth and still have time for leisure. But while other societies keep producing work-oriented people (most of them for being poor and unproductive – having no choice), competition will smash down those who want to enjoy their time not working so much or so hard.

Enjoying time is not a stable equilibrium in consumer-driven competition. Hope we could turn into a enjoyng-life-driven competition society, where time is more valued than “unnecessary” goods (in a “technical” sense, not a moralist anti-consumerism critique here), and firms compete offering good work conditions.

Of course, while most of world population still live in porverty that is complete non-sense. That the southern european spirit doesn’t disappear until there, so next generations can enjoy all the progress we’ve been making the last centuries with long vacations e mild work.

152 Coldstream June 23, 2012 at 2:00 am

The 20%+ unemployed in Spain and Greece have plenty of time to enjoy leisure.

153 docmerlin June 23, 2012 at 3:47 am

For you what is leisure?

154 Andre June 23, 2012 at 5:54 am

Only first world problems here. Nothing is discussed in blogs but first world problems.

155 Brian Donohue June 23, 2012 at 9:58 am

so funny. I read recently that large parts of Africa (along with big chunks of China, India etc) have had a really good decade.

but here on Earth, we’re doomed.

156 Swan June 23, 2012 at 7:19 am

A questions for the Americans here: Presumably if you don’t take your vacation, you get it paid out one way or another? I am in New Zealand, which I sometimes think lies somewhere between Europe and the US on these sorts of issues. Plenty of people take holidays each year here, usually around 2 weeks over Christmas (in the Summer – Southern Hemisphere), and then maybe a week or 2 in the middle of the year. But there are plenty of people who don’t take their leave. Most places this means it just accrues, and you get it paid out if you ever leave. It is sometimes seen as a bit of a badge of honour e.g. ‘Oh that guy is married to his job, hes got 80 days leave owing!”

157 Norman Pfyster June 23, 2012 at 9:28 am

It varies a lot from employer to employer. My company only allows me to carry over 10 days PTO per year; if I have more I lose it. Contrast that to my dad, who worked for the US government. When he retired, he had accrued nearly a year’s worth of time off, which was paid out in a lump sum.

158 JonF June 23, 2012 at 12:11 pm

We can’t carry anything over, but we get 20 days to start (25 after ten years). We are also strongly pressured to use it. If you haven’t used or at least scheduled all your vacation days by early November you start getting nasty-grams from HR telling you to do so.

159 TallDave June 23, 2012 at 10:09 am

In gov’t jobs, you generally get paid, period. Sometimes you can even save them up for your last year and use the bonus as part of your retirement base. (Hey, it’s just taxpayer money, right?)

In private jobs, I think it’s uncommon to be able to accrue large amount of vacation over the years, though often you can accrue some amount.

Of course, some of us work as independent contractors. My vacation is whenever I take off work, which is (preferably) never — I try to work 52*40 hours a year, more if there’s side work available. I’m paid an hourly rate by clients and I can often work from home so I work some odd hours but I make more than I could as traditional W-2 employee.

160 JonF June 23, 2012 at 12:14 pm

US companies are free to set rules as to how much can be carried over. However any time that the company books shows owed must be paid out when a worker leaves (voluntarily or otherwise). Too many people do not know this, and as a result too many dishonest employers get away with denying vacation pay when they lay people off. It is however enforceable in court. I was laid off when my employer went bankrupt (chapter 13, a reorg) in 2006 and not given my accrued vacation pay, which was quite substantial. I filed with the bankruptcy court for it and though it took 16 months I did get every penny of it.

161 BC June 23, 2012 at 10:18 am

So, if you get sick over the weekend, does that mean that you should be able to take Monday and Tuesday off? Also, why does the ruling not apply to the 25% of unemployed Spaniards? If they are sick for x days during their unemployment, then their next employer should be required to give them their first x days of work off (paid, of course). If high unemployment is caused mainly by insufficient government spending, then such a requirement shouldn’t have any effect whatsoever on the ability of the unemployed to find a next job.

162 PacRim Jim June 23, 2012 at 3:57 pm

Funny, a perusal of European history book convinced me that it’s not so much that Europeans hate to work.
Rather, they work to hate.

163 Professor von Nipples June 23, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Europe sucks.

164 Christopher Nipples June 23, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Europe sucks donkey dick.

165 Rodney Fondler June 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Europe gives head.

166 Rex Everything June 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Europe bites the big one.

167 Serial Buttocks Fondler June 23, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Europe takes it up the ass.

168 Thrusty Otis June 23, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Europe swallows.

169 Julius Seizure June 23, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Europe tongues my pee-hole.

170 Doc Merlin June 24, 2012 at 12:43 am

“Julius Seizure”
That name made me lol.

171 Long Dong Silver June 23, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Europe sucks AND swallows.

172 Ma Balz Es Hairy June 23, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Europes gives rim jobs.

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