Do you look at a vacation as a guilty pleasure or a basic human right? The way you answer that question says a lot more about the country you come from than you may realize.
Based on Mercer's most recent Worldwide Benefit and Employment Guidelines survey, workers in Western Europe and Latin America get far more vacation days than their North American and Asian counterparts.
Surprised? Probably not. The United States has long been called the "no-vacation nation" -- and with good reason. The U.S. is the only developed country without a federal mandate for a minimum number of vacation days. It also honors only 10 public holidays a year, a number that's below the global average.
According to data out this month from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 39.7 percent of American workers (or about 55 million people) did not have access to paid vacation time in 2011. What's even more disconcerting is that about 57 percent of working Americans whose employers did offer paid time off had an average of 11 days left on the table at the end of 2011, according to a different study performed by Harris Interactive for low-cost carrier JetBlue.
The nation's neighbor to the north doesn't fare well either. Canada offers a statutory minimum of 10 vacation days and has just nine public holidays. Given that most U.S. companies offer around 15 days of paid holiday, this makes Canada even more of a "no-vacation nation" than the U.S. with an average of just 19 days off each year -- a figure worse than the least-generous Asian countries like Thailand (22), China (21) and the Philippines (20).
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What's clear is that North Americans, in general, are far less likely to get paid time off than their counterparts in Europe and Latin America. In Europe, vacation time is considered a human right, so much so that earlier this year, the European Union's highest court ruled that workers who fall ill on vacation can take another one as compensation. Mind you, this provision is for people that already clock in about four weeks of vacation a year, a luxury most Americans, for instance, would only get if they stayed at the same job for 20 years, according to the BLS.
Wolfgang Seidl, head of Mercer's health care consulting business, said that, from an employee and company perspective, Europeans recognize that health creates wealth.
"Despite continued economic turmoil, interest in the issue of work-life balance continues to grow," he said. "Companies recognize that a healthy, happy workforce is a productive one and this feeds directly into the bottom line."
Across the Atlantic, organizations like Take Back Your Time have proposed bills in the U.S. congress mandating paid vacations for American workers and lobbied to improve benefits for Canadians, but so far, little has changed.
Click "Start" for a look at 10 countries that, unlike Canada or the U.S., offer over a month of time off each year.
** All figures are based on statutory minimum holidays and are calculated by the number of working days off based on a five-day work week.