America's Overworked Workers

 With summer break and family vacation time on the horizon, we considered it timely to gather some highly quotable factoids on American work and vacation behavior. Here they are:

  • Americans work about 350 more hours per year than most Europeans and 70 more hours than the Japanese (Bureau of Labor Statistics). According to Harvard economics professor Juliet Schor, "People are working harder than they ever have before. The typical American now works 47 hours a week--164 more hours than only twenty years ago." That's more than an extra month of work per year.

  • Compared to France (39 days), Germany (27 days), the Netherlands (25 days), Great Britain (23 days), and Canada (20 days), American employees receive the least amount of vacation time (16 days).

  • 37% of Americans take fewer than seven days of vacation per year, and an estimated 41,550,000 Americans don't take any vacation at all.

  • In comparison, 45% of French employees take at least one 3- to 4-week vacation, 56% of Germans and 54% of Canadians take all their vacation days, 62% of Dutch plan on two full weeks vacation this year, and the British even gladly forego a couple days pay to extend their vacation time.

  • A 2004 Chicago Tribune article stated, "American workers talk about vacations, plan for them, dream about them and then, never take them. In the United States, 415 million vacation days will go unused in 2004. Given a five-day work week, that comes out to 1.6 million years of unused vacation."

  • According to the 5th annual "Vacation Deprivation Survey" by, in 2005, Americans are likely to give back more than 421 million vacation days, with each employed U.S. adult anticipated to leave an average of three vacation days on the table this year--a value of almost $54 billion.

  • A recent "Vacation Trend Survey" by Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell (YPB&R), a Florida-based marketing firm, found that how much vacation time an employee foregoes depends largely on where he lives. 40% of Sacramento residents left vacation time unused, while only 17% of New Yorkers did the same.

  • Los Angeles and Philadelphia are the most stressed-out cities--with 21% of their residents claiming "the need to relax." In contrast, only 2% of Phoenix residents felt that need.

  • 55% of Houston, but only 37% of Chicago residents say they're unable to disconnect from work during their vacation.

  • Only 28% of New York City residents say that work demands prevent them from taking longer vacations; in contrast, 43% of San Francisco residents think they do. New Yorkers are most likely to name "economics" as number-one factor for not taking long vacations.

  • According to the 2004 study "Overwork in America: When the Way We Work Becomes Too Much" by the Families and Work Institute, one third of Americans are chronically overworked.

  • 20% of overworked employees say they make "a lot of mistakes" at work, 39% "feel very angry" toward their employers, and 34% say they often or very often resent their coworkers. 36% feel highly stressed, 21% experience high levels of depressive symptoms, 48% are in poorer health, and 59% say they don't take good care of themselves.

  • 60% of employees who have to "work on too many tasks at the same time" (vs. 22% who only sometimes experience multi-tasking) and 64% who are interrupted in their work flow often or very often during the day (vs. 26% who are only sometimes interrupted) feel highly overworked.

  • Women are more likely to feel overworked than men, and baby boomers (age 40-59) more than other generations. Surprisingly, having children under the age of 18 or having more than one child is not associated with being more overworked.

  • Even though 79% of parents and 71% of kids say they "need" a family vacation, only 14% will take a vacation two weeks or longer. A typical American vacation averages four days.

  • Only one in four Americans says he's "extremely satisfied" after a four- day vacation, and only 41% are "extremely satisfied" after a week or more. On average, employees say it takes them 3 vacation days before they start to unwind and relax. Statistical analyses show, however, that vacations of 7 days or more have better psychological outcomes than shorter ones.

  • Nearly one in four Americans checks his emails and phone messages while on vacation, often on a daily basis. A recent survey by Rasmussen Reports shows that 38% of managers and 40% of entrepreneurs vacation with their laptops and PDA's.

  • A new British study commissioned by Hewlett Packard found that a nonstop barrage of email can cause a greater loss of IQ than smoking a small amount of marijuana. Workers who constantly break away from tasks to react to incoming emails and phone messages suffer an average loss of 10 IQ points, the equivalent of missing a whole night's sleep and more than double the 4- point drop from marijuana.

Posted 06-14-2005 11:23 PM by Doug Casey
Related Articles and Posts