Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy “Holiday”

Hopping on the highway this morning, I was overcome with the feeling I entered the twilight zone. The road, normally packed with daily commuters, was virtually empty. The clock confirmed that it was indeed rush-hour but where was everyone? Suddenly I realized why the roads were so empty; President’s Day. Everyone was at home enjoying the day off.

This realization did not have me turning around to enjoy a lazy day at home. Even if you are lucky to have a nice job with great benefits, chances are slim of having the day off unless your employer is the government, a bank, a school, a trash collection company or controlled by an incredibly strong union. For the rest of the population in the United States President’s Day, along with Martin Luther King Day, Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day, is just another day on the calendar.

There is no national mandate that requires employers to give off federal holidays. Not that this is really a surprise in a culture that places so little value on vacation time. Standard time-off in the United States stands at a paltry 2 weeks, with many receiving fewer paid days off. Statistics show that US workers take about 13 days off a year. This compares poorly to 42 days in Italy, 37 days in France, 35 in Germany, 34 in Brazil, 28 in the UK, 26 in Canada, 25 in Korea and Japan.

Number of days off does not take into account the number of hours a typical American works. While many countries have mandates that limit citizens from working more then 37 – 45 hours a week, the US has no laws limiting the number of hours an employee, especially salaried employees, can work. If you ask the typical salaried employee how many hours a week they work, you are bound to find out that their actual hourly pay rate comes in close to or lower then minimum wage. Working those extra hours quickly add up to extra days, meaning our European counterparts actually receive much more time off then the statistics above.

Not that lack of vacation and holiday grants really matter, most Americans are unable to use all their vacation time for a variety of reasons including managerial pressures, fear of lay-off and inability to offload work long enough to get away. We have a workforce full of overworked individuals without the opportunity to walk away for a few days to recharge their batteries and return to work with better attitudes and new perspectives. All this extra work is hurting production and output. Study after study shows that US workers are being surpassed on productivity measures when compared to our friends across the globe who enjoy time off with their family and friends.

Essentially, not only are most US workers cranky, tired and unable to experience anything beyond the workplace, but they are surrounded by people who are just as miserable. It should be no surprise that the US leads the world in the number of work-related homicides and workplace violence. Take high-pressure and high-stake jobs, mix in some fear of lay-off and eliminate days off and you have the perfect recipe for people going over the edge at work.

So, rather then spending this federal holiday with my family and friends, or working in the community, or honoring US Presidents, I did what most American’s did and gave another day of my life to ensure I could pay my bills. Really though, I can’t complain too much. At least the commute was good this morning.

1 comment:

Wade said...

i, too, enjoyed the quiet commute. i wonder, though, if the pressure we're both feeling isn't due to our shared employer; at my previous job, i felt no pressure or guilt about taking PTO. (and, incidentally, i am now down three days off from said previous employer: MLK, president's day, and the gerald ford death extravadanza).