Most people get Wednesday off this week in recognition of the Fourth of July holiday. And many of those folks will scoot out of work a little early today, following the siren call of sparklers, potato salad and barbecue grills.
Lake Lanier will be packed, local pools will be full and people will relax, enjoying the sun as well as family and friends. It's a nice week for most folks, a funny time, it might seem, to ask the question:
Do we work too much?
But on further inspection, it's the perfect time because one of the reasons workers enjoy Independence Day so much is that the day off is so rare, at least compared to other countries.
We are a fast-forward nation - a Tivo-watching, commercial-skipping, fast-food eating, sit-down-dinner-bypassing, pedal-to-the-metal driving group of on-the-go people. We also enjoy being the best, but that's a title we can't claim when it comes to annual days off.
According to a recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, workers in Austria get 30 calendar days of annual leave to go with 13 paid holidays. Spain also allows for 30 vacation days along with 12 paid holidays, and France grants 30 days of leave as well (but only one paid holiday), while Norway and Sweden each provide workers with 25 days of leave.
In Ireland, workers receive four weeks of vacation and nine paid holidays. This makes a conversation I had a few years ago at a pub in Dublin make all the more sense. A group of fans who entered the pub on their way home from a Gaelic football game invited me to attend the following week's game. When I informed them I had to return home before then, they questioned the sanity of traveling so far for such a short stay.
When I informed them I had used up half of my leave time to make the trip, they were amazed. They couldn't believe that I only had one more day of leave (10) than they had of paid holidays.
So, are we crazy? Do we work too much and enjoy too little? You have to wonder.
When holidays come around we're always reminded to remember what the day truly represents. The implication is that a day like Memorial Day should mean a little more than just a chance to hang out at the lake. Then again, any holiday you work tends to seem like just another day.
The statistics show that we do work too much when compared to other wealthy countries. It's our national identity, it is who we are. We won't be scaling back our work weeks like France (which cut down to 35 hours), and many workers will continue to be asked to work more than the 40 hours for which they are paid.
All we can do is stop every once in a while to smell the roses. Or, as the case may be Wednesday, the potato salad.
E-mail Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Tuesdays.
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