Labor Day, a celebration of the American labor movement, is one of America's favorite vacation weekends. In my day job as a credit card customer service rep, I have jealously input the travel plans of hundreds in the last few days.
For many Americans, however, even a vacation on the last long weekend of summer isn't enough to break them out of work mode. Over four in 10 of Americans (42%!) will spend the weekend catching up with their work emails instead of their nap time. 13% of respondents said they check in on their work emails multiple times per day, compared with only 6% August 2005.
While somewhat appropriate for a holiday celebrating the hard-working nature of the American workforce, this always-on attitude does adversely affect stress levels, immune system, memory, and mood. In fact, because they give themselves time to relax, the 46% of respondents that wait until they get back to do any work actually may be the more efficient and productive category of the two.
According to an Ernst & Young study in 2006, for every 10 hours of vacation an employee takes, their year-end performance ratings surged by 8%. That means one extra day of laying back and enjoying friends and family per year can translate to boosting your boss's opinion of you by almost one-third. On top of that, more frequent vacations meant lower turnover, as fewer employees burn out and leave the company.
Even something as simple as naps or more sleep can increase productivity greatly: sleep deprivation costs American companies an estimated $63.2 billion dollars, and napping significantly improves memory test results.
Maybe Europe has it right. Even notoriously industrious Germany has 30 guaranteed paid vacation days a year for all employees. America, unique among all wealthy nations, has zero. Austria, when you count weekends, only works 212 days a year, versus 153 days off. That is the equivalent of having a Labor Day-style long weekend every week of the year. And while Europe has its problems with debt, overly generous government employment, and lack of centralized authority to match its centralized currency, the above research suggests that their love of vacation is not one of those problems.
The work email survey was taken earlier this August, by Shaw & Company Research, Anderson Robbins Research, and Fox News. The words "Fox News Poll" at first gave me pause: this being the same statistician-enraging genre of poll that literally defines non-response bias with a 94% Republican viewership. However, an even half of the respondents in that survey also thought President Obama was doing a good enough job to deserve a vacation, so the survey seems pretty even-handed.
What do you think the American attitude toward work and relaxation means? For my part, I am shutting off my laptop, grabbing a cold beverage, and turning on my TV. My career apparently depends on it.