Does It Matter That American Workers Get So Little “Official” Time Off?

123RF Stock Photo
123RF Stock Photo

You know this to be true: American workers are among the most productive in the world, even if the the growth in U.S. productivity slowed somewhat at the end of last year.

Some of that slowdown was due to the simple fact that productivity growth simply couldn’t keep up the same pace it was at during the worst of the Great Recession, when workers were scrambling to do whatever they could to keep employed. Another factor is that yes, unemployment is easing a bit and people are getting hired again, so there is a little lag in any boosts in productivity from that.

But one thing is also very true when you start getting into workers and productivity: Americans get a lot fewer holidays and other days off than do other workers in other countries. 

Europeans get the most paid holidays

I was reminded of this while looking at this new informational graphic from Mercer, the global HR consultants, titled “Who Gets the Most Time Off by Law? It’s the graphic manifestation of data from Mercer’s Worldwide Benefit & Employee Guidelines, and this graphic details the amount of paid time off mandated by law in various countries around the world.

It points out  what you probably already know: that “workers in Western Europe, on average, have the greatest amount of statutory paid holiday, while employees in Asia Pacific have the lowest levels of statutory paid holiday.” It adds, however, that “holiday entitlement is often more complex since actual holiday provision often depends on local practices, company contracts and the number and treatment of public holidays.”

You probably will also not be surprised to see where the U.S. ranks on this list, because when it comes to “statutory” holidays, Americans get zip.

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Still, it’s an interesting informational graphic that helps increase the understanding that giving employees a fair number of days off — and the chance at some work-life balance — is a good thing no matter where in the world you live.

So, take a look and see what you think.


John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


2 Comments on “Does It Matter That American Workers Get So Little “Official” Time Off?

  1. This is interesting, but I guess I do not know the definition of “statutory days off” because the US has National Holidays of Christmas, New Years, Labor Day, etc.  Wouldn’t these be considered “statutory” days off?  Most US organizations provide paid vacation days either because of negotiations with labor organizations or as an incentive when hiring people which may not be statutory, but are essentially universal.

    1. Yes, this is a little confusing, but I think “statutory days off” refers to vacation days mandated by law. The U.S. does not have this although many people do work for employers who give vacation as a benefit. This MarketWatch story clarifies it a little —

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