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What If Every American Worker Received 36 Days of Paid Time Off Like the French Average

By Vicki Salemi

Could you imagine the endless possibilities? Whether it’s using the time for a much-needed vacation or simply taking time off for mental health days, I can only imagine how this would boost productivity, morale, and an overall sense of freedom in the workplace. (That is, if we actually took the time that was given to us and detached – both physically and mentally – from the office.)

As referenced in a recent study, the average number of annual vacation days in the US is an insignificant 12.4 days and apparently more than one-third of Americans don’t even use all of the time off. That’s right, the unused time goes right back to the employers.

According to experts like Ken Siegel, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., president of
The Impact Group, Inc., a Los Angeles-based group of psychologists
who consult to the management of leading global companies, from
a psychological standpoint the benefits of a generous personal day
policy are astounding. “Workers come back from time off feeling more
invigorated and more engaged in tasks they didn’t complete before their
time off. And they are able to focus better because they were able
to take care of the personal items that were distracting them at work
previously.” Plus, he says the message the employer sends is
empathic: it shows they realize employees have a life outside
of work and this results in a high level of commitment.

Essentially having more personal time equates to more freedom, an intangible that is highly coveted by employees. In fact, as a recruiter I can attest this is a common concern of candidates; a driving factor of their decision-making process becomes the topic of work/life balance. In other words, actually having a life outside the office is important.

Janice Reals Ellis, co-author of What Every Successful Woman Knows–12 Breakthrough Strategies to Get the Power and Ignite Your Career, agrees. “More and more candidates want more time for their outside interests including serving on not for profit boards, being with family, traveling and hobbies,” she says. “While it may be difficult to provide more work time flexibility and personal time off, the only way companies can stay ahead of the curve in recruiting and retaining the best and brightest talent is to accommodate employees.”

So how can employers grant us our wish so we can experience the joie de vivre like the French? One solution is to get creative. If a company can’t suddenly double its personal day policy (and let’s face it, we realize the reality that employers aren’t going to suddenly start giving us time off for random holidays like Flag Day), beyond a bank of personal time there may be hidden ways to take advantage of policies which already exist. Ellis explains, “Companies do have in their policies the ability to take a sabbatical.”

In a tight labor market where it’s increasingly difficult to find and attract qualified candidates, it seems dozens upon dozens of personal days isn’t only a huge selling point, it also serves as a valuable retention tool to keep current employees happy and motivated. Siegel explains, “Psychologically healthy people are able to view work as a part of their life, not their whole life. Having a sense of choice of where one engages one’s self is a major contributor to ones psychological health. Having options about where you spend time contributes to one’s overall sense of well being.”

Vicki Salemi, author of The ABC’s of College Life, is an accomplished writer and regular contributor to AOL and MSN and other sites and magazines regarding careers, education, health, fitness, and fashion. Vicki blogs about careers and workplace issues on (a.k.a. Vivacious Vicki) and her Manhattan adventures on

Employed adults on average will earn the following number of vacation days in each country in 2007

(Note: based upon the mean of results including people who did not receive vacation days)

  • Employed adults in the United States on average receive about 14 vacation days per year, compared to 14 days in 2006 and 12 days in 2005.
  • Employed adults in Great Britain on average receive about 24 vacation days per year, compared to 24 days in 2006 and 23 days in 2005.
  • Employed adults in France on average receive about 36 vacation days per year, compared to 39 days in 2006.
  • Employed adults in Germany on average receive about 26 vacation days per year, compared to 27 days in 2006.
  • Employed adults in Spain on average receive about 30 vacation days per year.

–Survey from