I believe in efficiency a great deal (it is a big part of the reason I took to Deming and lean manufacturing – I find waste annoying). Vacation sure can seem inefficient. All these people that could be working, not working. But people are not the same as machines. Time away from work can reinvigorate people. Time away from the day to day work can lead to better performance when people are actually at work. Time to enjoy life is valuable in itself.
The USA has enormous financial wealth. But vacation time in the USA is much less than most other rich countries. I think, by and large, this is a mistake in the USA. It is true part of the reason for the financial wealth in the USA is we chose to work longer hours so we can purchase more material goods. And as a principle I believe in limiting constraints on the market – so that the market can find solutions that people chose.
There are some difficulties with a free market approach to leave. First, in truth there is not much of a free market. Granted the government isn’t saying you have to offer only 2 or 3 or 4 weeks or leave. But try to negotiate with most employers in the USA for additional leave. You will find many have policies that they say won’t let them negotiate. So employees often have little choice about the amount of leave they can take with a job (even if they are willing to trade off salary).
There are several reasons for the lack of vacation time in the USA. One of the big reasons is the broken health care system. Health care costs are so huge, that the per hour costs of health care are very high. Companies don’t want fewer productive hours when the high health care costs are going to be the same for the year no matter if the work year is 1,600; 2,000; or 2,200 hours. Having 15% fewer employees for the same number of work hours that is a huge savings so companies have a big incentive to make hours worked per employee as high as possible.
Related: Vacation: Systems Thinking – Medieval Peasants had More Vacation Time – Dream More, Work Less – Too much stuff – photos from some of my time off
I also think the idea of a sabbatical is very appealing. In fact I may take one myself. A few companies actually offer them (usually a few months instead of a year typical for academia) but most do not. I can actually understand that, so if you like this idea you need to fund it yourself.
The problem of workaholic culture is not limited to the USA, though it is quite high in the USA.
At the same time I must admit I find the limited hours and years of work in much of Europe a bit extreme also. If the economy can afford it, that is great. But when the economy can’t afford it and people still expect to lots of vacation and early retirement I must admit I find myself finding those expectations unreasonable. A happy medium is best I think.