Vacation in Global Work Culture: Are We Overworking?

For many of us in the U.S., success means being the first to the office, working past 5 p.m., and logging hours on weekends. Being a go-getter is praised, sought after, and rewarded in our work culture.

But is this really a healthy perspective? Are we overworking ourselves? I wonder when the law of diminishing returns kick in, making us unable to give 100 percent focus and productivity to our employers and clients.

As I browse my Facebook feed this evening, I see my girlfriend in France is on a month-long holiday with her children. Snapshots of them playing on the beach and slurping drippy ice cream cones make me envious. They also make me wonder if the number of hours we work in America hurts us rather than helps us.

Work Around the World

In France, when an employee works over 35 hours a week, they must be compensated with overtime pay. In China, employees work 40 hours per week, after which overtime kicks in. If they accumulate more than 36 hours of overtime in a month, they get paid double their salary for those extra hours or are offered an additional day off during the week. In the United Kingdom, there’s no such thing as overtime. Instead, extra hours of work are compensated with extra hours of time off.

Just how much time off do employers allow in the U.S.? It turns out that American businesses aren’t legally required to offer any vacation time to their employees. The average number of paid days off per year in the U.S. is about 16, but one in four workers don’t receive a single employer-paid vacation day. To add insult to injury, American employees work an average of 20 percent more hours per year than their counterparts in Germany, where workers gets an average of an annual 34 paid vacation days, and France, where the average is 31.

An Unhealthy Obsession

Burning the midnight oil isn’t healthy. Skipping vacation and working six- or seven-day weeks may lead to a higher risk of depression and heart disease, as well as poor meal choices and weight gain, according to a report from Business Insider. One study even showed that working long hours decreases cognitive function.

“We actually get stupider when we work too much,” author Tasha Eurich, Ph.D., told Business Insider.

The evidence is clear: Working too much can be detrimental. So why don’t we make time for ourselves? Do we fear appearing lazy in the eyes of our superiors? Or do we simply want our careers to grow as quickly as possible? To truly recharge, de-stress, and be the most effective workers we can be, we need breaks in our routines, even if we do love our jobs.

As I search for a better balance between my work and my personal life, I make efforts to schedule time for myself. Whether it’s a yoga class over the lunch hour, reading a fiction book in the evening, or taking the entire weekend off, I know it’s crucial to stay both physically and mentally healthy, despite the pressures of a fast-paced work culture.

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