Europeans suffer from ‘vacation deprivation,’ despite working less and having more time off than their American and Japanese peers

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In the eyes of many, Europe is viewed as a vacation dreamland, with its liberal holiday allowances and a culture that heavily promotes work-life balance.

But if you ask Europeans, they might disagree. As far as they are concerned, they’re not getting nearly enough vacation days—even as they’re getting the most among some of their peers, a new Expedia report shows. 

Germans and French have among the most generous annual leave periods, with 31 and 33 days, respectively. That’s over a month in both cases—two-and-a-half times the number of days the U.S. employees get. Yet, a survey of over 11,500 employees worldwide revealed that workers in Germany and France report not having enough vacation time.

In contrast, their American and Japanese peers take significantly fewer days off work and seem largely satisfied with it. While 65% of U.S. and 53% of Japanese employees feel deprived of a vacation, that figure climbs to 84% among Germans and 69% for the French. 

More time off certainly doesn’t address the larger question of work-life balance, as some European employees are left wanting more. But what explains this divergence? 

It turns out that people’s attitudes toward vacation and its place in each country’s culture dictate why they feel deprived of their downtime.

If you consider the U.S., employees work longer hours, according to OECD data. In 2022, the average worker spent 1,811 hours working through the year compared to 1,341 hours and 1,511 hours in Germany and France, respectively.

Call it what you will, whether that’s ambition—or its lack thereof, as the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund CEO Nicolai Tangen said in April, it’s what distinguishes the workers’ attitudes.   

“Particularly in America, there’s an ‘ideal worker’ norm, and we feel pressure to look committed to the job at all times,” Dr. Mindy Shoss, a professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida, said to Expedia. The reason Americans cited for not taking enough time off was “life is too busy to plan or go on vacation,” the travel company’s 24th iteration of the “Vacation Deprivation” report found.    

On the contrary, vacations are seen as a “basic right” in France, Christie Hudson, Expedia’s head of public relations, told Fortune last month. They’re also seen as a crucial aspect of overall well-being, which isn’t valid to the same extent in the U.S. 

“The distinctly French emphasis on the fundamental right to rest is one to adopt everywhere,” the Expedia report said. 

What gives?

France has become known as one of the least workaholic nations, with many people taking time off and working fewer hours. 

However, more generally, studies have found that European culture accommodates work-life balance more than the U.S. Countries like the U.K. have a statutory requirement entitling workers to 28 days off. 

The approach is straightforward for Europeans: As long as people meet the subsistence level, they choose free time over wealth creation, unlike their American counterparts who prioritize the opposite, the Financial Times reported. 

Even when Americans choose to take vacations, rest and relaxation are often not a priority, making it harder to unplug. This explains the desire for more time off. 

If we widen our gaze further, countries like Hong Kong and Japan offer unique lessons on how best to utilize the time workers get—whether that’s a little or a lot.

Hong Kong-based workers systematically plan their time off, often around public holidays, to maximize their vacations. That’s how they have no leftover days on average, and the same is true of Singapore. 

In Japan, where workers get roughly 19 days off a year, seven days go unused, according to Expedia. Still, Japanese employees feel the least deprived of vacations. The trick? Taking short, but frequent breaks between work to make the most of time off.

“In Japan, people take time off every month instead of just twice a year. For the French, not even a full month of vacation feels like enough time,” Melanie Fish, Expedia brands public relations head said.

“Clearly there’s a lot for the U.S. to borrow from, whether it’s spreading your PTO throughout the year or prioritizing rest on your next vacation.”

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