More time for leisure increases employee productivity

By Jeff Bagdigian

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When Americans go to work, they quite literally sell hours of their lives to employers, receiving money and other benefits in return. Those hours could have been spent hiking with family and friends, or they could have been spent pursuing any other enjoyable personal activity.

Despite the obvious distaste many Americans display in putting in long hours, they continue to do just that – and for many, these hours are put in without any type of paid leave or vacation.

Looking out across the Atlantic at our European comrades, there are countries where paid vacation is a federal requirement. According to a policy brief by Harvard Law written by Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt regarding holidays in OECD countries, paid vacation is a requirement in the European Union (EU) and workers in Europe spend less time overall in the workplace.

Naturally, one would assume that in America, since workers spend less time on vacation and more time at work, Americans are more productive than Europeans by comparison. Evidently, this is not the case. So why then are Americans spending more time at the workplace while Europeans demonstrate that they can be just as productive but in less time?

The hours spent at work add up: They turn into weeks, months and ultimately, years. The average American will spend decades of his or her life at work. Unless these Americans have found a way to monetize their hobby (and for most people this is not the case), most Americans will probably be able to rattle off a long list of things they’d rather be doing than working.

According to the aforementioned brief, in the EU, employees are granted four weeks of paid vacation; that’s 20 business days, plus weekends. That is the legal minimum; many nations, such as France, Germany, Portugal and Spain offer six weeks of paid vacation in addition to paid public holidays. That is three times the number of vacation days companies in the United States typically offer.

With the amount of paid leave Europeans enjoy, it is hard to believe [N1] that they are able to match the U.S. in productivity. How is it that European workers manage this? The answer to that question is simple: efficiency in the workplace.

In America, employees see the hours accumulated on the job as important, but in the wrong way. It should not be the number of hours one works that is important but rather what one does during those hours. The focus in the American workplace should be on quality, not quantity. Why spend 40 hours on what you can accomplish in 35?

The work environments in the U.S. are far more casual than those of our European counterparts. We are all familiar with the idea of lounging by the water cooler or gossiping by the coffee pot, but these workplace stereotypes are alien to the European worker. In Germany, one goes to work to get a job done, and once finished, it is time to go home. Work in Europe is less about socializing and more about getting quality results in the shortest amount of time possible, according to OPENForum.com’s Glen Stansberry.

America has a thing or two to learn with regard to this concept. Europeans value results rather than time spent “on the clock.” The number of hours one accumulates is not the important thing; the important thing is getting results.

Once at work, the emphasis should be on getting the job done, not on socializing. It’s fine to socialize with the co-worker next door but why not get the job done first and socialize after work? The reason Americans do not have more vacation time is that it takes us so long to get results, partly due to the relaxed atmosphere present in the work environment.

Americans are right to desire more vacation time, but it is understandable why American companies would be against this. Paid vacation means a company is paying an employee to not be productive. An employee desires paid vacation because he or she is burnt out, often due to insane hours without any break or holiday. The vicious cycle is apparent.

Companies and employees alike should work to change the nature of the workplace. Hours spent at work should no longer be considered a significant metric; results should be valued instead. Americans should push for more paid vacation and paid holidays specifically for those employees who are more likely to be focused and goal-oriented, aiming for good results in less time. This way, efficient employees will have time to unwind and decompress, reducing the risk that they’ll feel burnt-out, and companies will get a happier, more productive employee. A relaxed environment does not entail worker productivity, nor does requiring workers to pull insane hours.

America should make paid vacation a federal requirement. Time for leisure, from a company’s point of view, should be seen as an investment that will culminate in a productive employee. The example of the European workplace illustrates that businesses can be productive and still treat employees as human beings. An employee with time for leisure gets results.. This way, companies make money, and the worker has more time for the only goal worth pursuing – that of living and enjoying life.

Jeff Bagdigian is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]