A lot is written about the fact that we in the U.S. have the lowest amount of paid time off from our jobs than any of the other developed countries. But not much is happening here to change that.
With the time that workers now spend in one job trending downward, the amount of vacation time they get is reduced as well, since vacation allowances are typically connected to service time with that employer.
China, one of our main economic competitors (and the target of a current trade war with the U.S.), has for some time cultured a “996” workweek for tech company employees: 12 hour days, 6 days a week. That to me is the definition of a “workaholic”. In the U.S. there is a common belief that you need a balance in your life between work time and personal time. That is especially true if you have children to raise. It’s different if you are a small business owner or a key player in a start-up. But people in those situations have made the choice to accept that they will sacrifice free-time for monetary rewards.
A 2010 survey by SHRM, as reported in the SHRM article, “Survey: Work/Life Balance Off-Kilter in U.S.”, indicates that 89% of the workers surveyed feel that this is a problem in the U.S. But the trend has been to require more and more from workers (which increases productivity, assumedly), and the current historically low unemployment rates mean that this will continue (fewer available workers for the work to be done). And vacation time, paid or unpaid, will continue to be hard to come by.
What is the answer? Early in the 20th century it was growth in union organizing. If workers here continue to be dissatisfied that may again be the result. There are also several states that mandate leaves of absence for workers to deal with personal and family issues (according to abetterbalance.org , there are seven states currently with such laws), which exceed the requirements of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)). Improvements/enhancements to the FMLA itself have been contemplated by federal lawmakers (the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act, known as the FAMILY Act was introduced in Congress in February 2017).
Certainly the “996” approach is not going to take root here in the U.S. But it also may mean that to stay competitive in the world market the pendulum cannot swing too far in the other direction. What is clear is that attention needs to be paid to this difficult issue.