Is asking about corporate vacation norms sound advice while job hunting?
Psychology Today magazine says "yes," and it says the professional worker in the United States suffers from chronic VDD or vacation deficit disorder. Even a French sociologist, who is interviewed in the paragraphs ahead, says that fewer vacation days in France poses a threat to family life, and is creating a business world --led by the United States-- detached from communal human interaction.
More than 150 years ago in the United States similar concerns about overwork were behind the formation of worker unions and workplace regulations set on reducing what was a seven day workweek down to six, and eventually down to five days in the 1930s.
"You have to account for 43 hours per week billable time -- and that means 52 weeks a year."
An IBM employee in Southbury, CT
Workers in the United States do not lead the world in dedicated hours at work, Korea holds the top spot in 2005. However stateside professionals log 100 hours per year more than those professionals in Japan, and 389 hours more than professional workers in Europe. The average workweek in the United States puts workers behind the desk for 44 hours.
Ironically...even with extra work hours in the United States productivity levels are less than those of Japan and Europe when deducting consumer spending from the gross domestic product (largely measured as the factor for economic growth in the United States.) China mandates three weeks of vacation minimum per year, Europe by in large averages about six weeks, but in the United States there is no minimum hourly workweek nor mandated vacation time for any worker --hourly, salaried, or otherwise-- vacation is purely optional.
Corporations, led by IBM in 1995, have adopted "Use or Lose" rules to prevent employees from rolling-over and accumulating vast amounts of vacation time.
If the lack of vacation time is not of concern to productivity, researcher Joe Robinson says, working more than a 40 hour work weeks --in this advanced world-- simply grinds away at the brain in the form of stress and therefore productivity drops substantially by the time that worker reaches 50 hours or more of work per week. Robinson is the author of Work To Live: The Guide to Getting a Life. Over-worked professionals lose sleep, personal 'needs' time, brain-cool-down time, and the added stress from overwork contributes to stomach ailments, eye fatigue, and heart disease.
Executives are not immune to lack of vacations either; although their six-figure salaries do help them coordinate after-hour needs with personal service attendants, that extra time is often given back to their corporate life. Boston Northeastern University's Bob Wier (vice president of information services) told CIO magazine that IBM never permitted him vacations for his 21 years of service; however since leaving IBM in 1998 he now takes his full vacation by handing-off responsibilities to his No.2 man. Vacation is good for the soul and the business environment, Wier concludes.
"It would be impossible to make a good salary if I worked in France or didn't put in seven-days a week working my business. I'm building my legacy now at an early age."
Matt Seitz, New York, NY
IBM policy says it offers employees 2 weeks vacation per year in the United States to start, but the number of employees who take those vacation days is less than 23 percent its internal survey found. Secretarial staff is the most likely group to take the full vacation time, because secretarial positions are temporarily filled while the employee is away. Most IBM workers are still connected to work for meetings and projects during their pre-planned vacation time their corporate survey reports.
Workers at IBM say layoffs and added work load prohibit them from scheduling real vacation time.
"You have to account for 43 hours per week billable time -- and that means 52 weeks a year," said one IBM employee from Southbury, CT, who asked not to be named. "Any day off has to be made up at the end of the year, so it is not possible to take vacation and meet my PBCs (employee business commitment to management,)" she said.
"And people here slam French employees for taking their holidays, but I think the French are more productive as a result and they are closer to their family and friends than we are here." IBM should not be your life, she said, "but American workers don't buy that yet."
France received a bad rap of sorts before ending its 35-hour work week in March 2005. The country does however mandate overtime pay (salaried employees in the United States are exempt from receiving overtime) and France keeps its 12 national holidays. Personal vacation time holds between five and eight weeks annually per worker. Comparatively the United States has five national holidays and no mandatory vacation time.
"That's why their economy sucks," said Matt Seitz, a 28-year day trader in Manhattan. He puts his annual salary at more than $300,000 and said that it would be impossible to make a "good salary if I worked in France or didn't put in seven-days a week working my business. I'm building my legacy now at an early age."
Seitz concludes the French economic growth is tied directly to slacked productivity and "lazy socialists" work ethic. However, in the past four years, the French have increased their average work week to 39 hours and are now permitted to work up to 48 hours per week as long as they are paid for overtime, according to Eurostat statistics office in Luxembourg.
Andre Carsoux of Paris disagrees with Seitz and said his research shows that the French now log more hours of work and exhibit the symptoms of added work stress, "which is now a normal way for life in America."
But Carsoux adds that overtime compensation in France is welcomed for couples raising a family. Nonetheless, he said vacation time is paramount to a healthy lifestyle and should not be ignored or refused "for no matter which country you are from, life is very short. I doubt that on your death bed your last thoughts are going to be about raising your national productivity level. No one will care."
Carsoux says that the French way of life is very social and "about family, not only about earning what you in the states say is the 'almighty dollar.'" Carsoux is a sociologist and anthropologist, and said the French remain true to the family values the United States --at one time had-- "in the 1940s and 1950s, but it is changing in France as well mainly due to American influences.
"With technology and mobile computing, more professionals are checking with work during their holidays and at evenings while at home." Carsoux concludes that this time is being taken away from raising children and he hopes the French will quickly adapt to managing their work life with their real life -- an idea he says has grown unimportant in the United States.
Carsoux's research directly correlates the increase in work hours in France to fewer hours spent with children at home, thus with less supervision, French children are losing focus at school and spending more time watching television or playing games on the Internet he said.
"Everything caters to one man's job or career, to get ahead, but Americans don't think ahead."
Andre Carsoux, Paris, France
"You ask the [day] trader, who is very young still, how he would make time to raise a family.
"Have him think ahead to age 70 whether or not he would have preferred more time with friends while he was a young man than working his life away. He would be an abnormal human if he didn't have that regret," Carsoux, who is 67, said.
Seitz snaps back, "Who is he to say what is normal, the French are very judgmental obviously."
"I'm saving more money today than my parents did in their 30 year marriage," Seitz said from his two-bedroom condominium in Battery City Park. He says he'll meet his goal of saving $1 million before the age of 31 by having put away $150,000 per year.
"I could take a break when I'm 40 and spend all the time I want with family, but I probably won't and until that time I have a good thing going and this energizes me."
Seitz describes himself as a frugal spender, an avid jogger and a competitive squash player.
"I have three buddies I play squash with each week for a couple of hours, that clears our heads and energizes me more." Seitz usually wins at squash against his buddies he states. Seitz works seven days per week and says the average day is probably 12 hours. He said taking time off his schedule for holidays would kill his drive.
"I don't need a vacation and I won't have any regrets." He sidestepped answering direct questions about his personal life; however, he did admit that dating is out of plan for now as would be raising children.
"There is plenty of time to get with someone later on, but that is some emotional mind drain that would only waste my time, plus if I do hook up with someone it means I found an equally aggressive match. No one stays home in my world," Seitz said.
CNN journalist Anderson Cooper wrote about staying power in the work place for Details magazine. Cooper said that vacations are largely reserved for the celebrity class...as merely their own photo-opportunity. He said that the more responsibility he has with his job it raises the stakes for what he could lose by taking vacations. "I'm convinced a big reason I got my own show on CNN was the fact that I kept filling in for people who were on vacation," Cooper wrote.
"Now if I leave the anchor chair too long," he worries someone else will fill in for him and perhaps take him down a notch. Cooper, the son of denim-icon Gloria Vanderbilt, contends vacations bore him. Cooper, who is 38, declined to be interviewed, but his own writings and personal statements do not indicate that he is married or in relationships outside of the workplace.
"That comes right back to what Americans think is a priority," Carsoux said. "Why isn't nurturing family and relationships a national priority anymore?"
"Everything caters to one man's job or career, to get ahead, but Americans don't think ahead."
Carsoux was quick to link a competitive and solitary drive for one's career success to the reduced focus on family values and thus this attitude has found its way into politics as well. "The United States has not thought ahead about its actions in Iraq either, or for the families in Iraq they have impacted with the one-way-American way.
"The actions from America of late are all related to this very individualist, personal drive for competition and ownership," Carsoux said.
Indirectly, that competitive edge is changing the world Carsoux concludes, "and not all for the best when it forces others to take away time with their families because America said you have to get ahead and be No.1."
"The quality time spent with family and friends 'during those holidays and other times' prove far more meaningful than material and competitive gains upon life's reflection."
Andre Carsoux, Paris, France
For the long-term, Carsoux predicts the United States will have to rethink its approach. "Americans don't seem to notice that in a few years they will be wiped out by China and maybe the EU too. Is America ready to be No.3 or four? Do they think 80-hour work weeks will give them a new lead?"
Seitz says that China isn't a threat, "China will look to America for leadership and business acumen, they lead in hands-on labor, but we'll keep the brain power."
"The operative word to his statement is arrogance," Carsoux said, and contends that a well balanced worker not only recognizes the importance of time away from his job and the support of family, but he engages in relationship building rather than "putting segments of people into a formula."
When death is upon you, Carsoux said humans do not reflect upon their careers. "He is more likely thinking about loved ones" or undone business. "This is human nature, this is how the brain works as we get older. As we are dying we are drawn back into ourselves and all that is left is that memory we prepare to close once and for all."
The quality time spent with family and friends "during those holidays and other times" prove far more meaningful than material and competitive gains upon life's reflection "and those relationships and memories can not be bought with a salary or savings or competitive nature. Only age and maturity proves to you that," Carsoux said.
Leaving behind a legacy as Seitz suggested, "is a myth," Carsoux determines. "People think they can leave behind such a wealth of financial support that they can change the world?" He said it is best to focus on the living and "altering their ways. There is nothing wrong with being successful but that is not simply being No.1. Working together, building relationships, enjoying each other's contribution rather than building self-made legacies relieves last regrets."
Seitz didn't rebuff Carsoux's points on the importance of family, "He should respect that I make my choices, and I don't want kids, and no country should mandate these choices for its workforce," Seitz said. "Work 35-hours if you want, that isn't in my world."
History proves Carsoux's point about leaving a legacy behind he said, "Bill Gates comes to mind at the moment as he undoubtedly will leave many philanthropic benefits for humanity, but he is one man out of six billion people. The majority of us are forgotten in a blink after we die."
Energize your mind and body for productive interaction within your community while you are living and --in between taking vacations-- Carsoux suggested trying personal forms of self-expression through writing or journaling, painting, gardening, cooking, "or anything you can do with your hands to be creative without any rules."
Sporting activities are not recommended as he said they are often tied back to the same competitive nature the work environment employs. "No losers in self expression. Sport has rules and you must comply to win, create an environment without constraints so you can build your own legacy from within.
"Take that precious time. It is the only thing we can't buy. Spend it away from work, spend it with your family, or spend it alone while creating something new to share with others, that is a great legacy to leave," Carsoux said. "When that last breath arrives, whether you worked 30 or 80 hours a week is of no consequence, and if you think its important I have sympathy [feel sorry] for you.
"Those extra hours you give an employer instead of helping your child or contributing to the community is not what you will be remembered for," said Carsoux. "There are no regrets for valuing quality of life over a career."
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