Business Productivity

Productivity and Vacation Comparisons by Country

Working too hard? Need a vacation? If you live in the United States, forget about it. We take a look at productivity levels by country.

Americans are the hardest working people in the industrialized world.

According to research by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Japan Productivity Center for Socio-Economic Development (JPC-SED), Americans work more hours per year and take fewer vacations than their colleagues in Europe.

Specifically, Americans work nearly 2,000 hours a year on average, according to the report, and take only an average of 10.2 days of paid vacation a year. Plus, Americans only earn their vacations after an average of three years on the job, while workers in many European countries earn vacation immediately upon being hired.

For example, the French work 1,656 hours a year and earn 25 to 30 days of paid vacation a year. The only industrialized country that even approaches American's work ethic is Japan. The Japanese average 1,889 hours of work a year (111 fewer than US workers), but they earn an average of 17.5 days of paid vacation a year.

United States
United Kingdom

The good news is that the U.S. still leads the industrialized world in productivity. We are ranked first among the Group of Eight (G8) nations, which are considered the most powerful countries in the world. Other G8 members include Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia and France. France is #2 in productivity.

Interestingly, the French have achieved their #2 status while also instituting a new 35-hour work week. Compare that statistic to this one: The U.S. was one of the few countries in which work hours actually grew--and they're expected to continue to increase.

USA Still #1 in Quality of Life

In other good news, the U.S. ranks first among the G8 nations in quality of life according to another recent study by JPC-SED. This Quality of Life indicator takes into account the average life span, healthcare system, productivity numbers, higher education levels and gross domestic product in each country.

Of the 30 nations listed in the study (most of them non-G8 members), the U.S. was seventh overall while Japan, France and Germany were 14th, 15th, and 16th respectively. The top Quality of Life countries were Luxembourg (#1), Norway (#2), Switzerland (#3), Denmark (#4), Sweden (#5) and Iceland (#6).

Perhaps this Quality of Life statistic helps explain, at least in part, why despite everything we've just read about Americans' ranking as leaders in hours worked and laggards in vacation days earned, most of the country's workers are satisfied with their workload.

According to a report released at the end of August by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 86 percent of American workers interviewed in a Gallup poll earlier this year said they are satisfied with the amount of work required of them. As for vacation time, 79 percent are satisfied with the amount they have. (You can read the entire study, "Attitudes about Work, Chores, and Leisure in America," on the AEI Web site.)

Still, wouldn't we be even more satisfied if we could accomplish our workload in fewer hours--and could take back some of those nearly 2,000 work hours for ourselves? To that end, visit the rest of our site for productivity tips, time-saving advice, and secrets to staying focused in your home office, and hints on what you can do with those chunks of time that usually go to waste while you're waiting for a meeting to start, standing on line at the grocery, driving home from work.

As James Ling, an entrepreneur who built up his small company to one of the forty biggest industrial corporations in the US during the sixties, said, "Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done."

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We greatly appreciate any advice you can provide on this topic. Please contribute your insights on this topic so others can benefit.

  • Ryan posted on 7/16/2010
    I think it is difficult to draw a conclusion about paid vacation/work hours and productivity by comparing nation to nation. There are simply too many cultural variables. I think, perhaps, a much more telling study would be that of different companies within the US only, offering varying amounts of paid vacation.

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