Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Comparison of Work and Leave Policies

The Economic Policy Institute provides us with an interesting comparison of work and leave policies in various countries comparable to the US. 

Vacation practices are particularly interesting. The US has no mandated vacation policy, which makes it unique among the countries included. Effectively, a full-time worker will generally receive two weeks paid with a transition to three weeks after a number of years. The better paying jobs might transition to as much as five weeks. There will be a large number of people who are working part-time and may accrue no paid vacation at all. An attempt at an equivalent average for the nation’s workers will be 2.5 weeks.

Clearly, the Europeans like their time off. A mandated six weeks of vacation, as in France and Denmark, would take some getting used to. With that much time off one has to accumulate some hobbies, some passions, some sporting skills—to say nothing of savings—in order to use all that time wisely. My brief encounters with Europeans have indicated that they have learned well how to consume their play time. We in the US would probably need at least a generation in order to learn how to play properly. At the moment, given six weeks of vacation, most would probably try to figure out a way to keep working and turn the vacation into cash.

The US also has no mandated paid holidays. That does not make us unique. As a practical matter, most people with full-time jobs will receive about 10 days in holiday pay. Again, there will be those classes of jobs where many fewer days will be available, but we will stick with the round number of 10 (two weeks). Italy and Austria mandate 13 paid holidays. I would hazard a guess that Italy might be throwing in some religious activities as holidays. One might guess that Austria has had enough history to have generated that many reasons to take a day off. It would be interesting to see how many holidays each country actually takes, mandated or not, and see if there is some correlation with a national attribute.

The table provides the average number of weeks worked per year by an equivalent full-time worker. If one subtracts vacation and holiday weeks from the full year, then takes the difference with weeks actually worked, one arrives at a number that might be called “other leave.” This would include sick leave, maternity leave and probably a few other things. This number should give an indication of how generous the given nation is in caring for its workers.

If one calculates “other leave” for the US (52-2.5-2-45.9)) one arrives at 1.6 weeks of other leave. That is not what one might call a generous number. The same calculation for Norway, using the numbers in the table, provides 10.5 weeks of extra leave. Let’s allow that paid holidays were underestimated and subtract two more weeks. That still leaves 8.5 weeks versus the 1.6 for the US. That is a huge difference, one that highlights the differences in social policies between the two countries. The US often tracks the UK in social matters. Giving the UK two more weeks of paid vacation we come up with 5.2 weeks of extra leave. Now consider Australia, one of the other British children. Australia’s numbers provide us with a negative one week of extra leave. That can only be interpreted as Australians refusing to use their vacations. C’mon guys—no one is going to lie on their deathbed and say “I wish I could have worked another week.”

My amateur analysis of this situation is that England spawned nations with the same awful social values that it possessed. However, England subsequently had to survive two world wars and their aftermaths and was forever changed. The US and Australia have had no equivalent event that would create a feeling of solidarity and a recognition that mutual assistance can be a good thing.

Amateur hour has now come to an end.

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