Is The US A No Vacation Nation?

Amy and I take a week off the grid every quarter. It is one of the things that has kept me sane and us together over the past 14 years.

This morning I saw a great short clip from the Today Show that got forwarded around on the US becoming a no vacation nation. They include an interview with Bart Lorang discussing FullContact’s Paid PAID vacation policy. It also shows an iconic picture of what stimulated this, which was Bart checking his email on his iPhone while riding on a camel with his then girlfriend / now wife in front of some pyramids.

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Everyone in my universe works incredibly hard. But the really great ones know the value of disconnecting for periods of time to recharge their batteries and refresh their brains. If you want more on this, grab a copy of the book Amy and wrote called Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur.

  • We force employees at to take a weeklong spring break between the months of March and June. Doesn’t cost them any vacation days. Great for recruiting (Who doesn’t want spring break back?), even better for mental health.

    • That’s a very cool concept, of Spring Break. Great for the brain, great for recruiting, great to unplug.

    • Luke Vernon

      Brilliant idea!

  • I’ve worked for several bosses who were “no vacation” types. One of them still sends emails and texts (and expects responses) on Holidays like Thanksgiving (I’m not kidding). Thankfully, I’m my own boss now. But now that I’m running my own shop, I find it very difficult to disconnect. The problems and challenges of running a business don’t go away just because your location changes.

    This year I decided to take up running (5K) more actively. I’ve dabbled in running in the past, but I never took it very seriously. Now I run ~20-30K a week, and I’m enjoying it. It definitely helps me disconnect for a short period of time on a regular basis. I have 3 races coming up in September, so I have those to distract me from my work.

    • My long lost cousin who is a head head hunter in NYC NEVER STOPS working. She works in the back of the car, and someone managed to talk her into going to the beach one day, but she had to bring her laptop to the beach with her. Her children nearly died when she went to the beach.

      I suspect that she feels if she takes time off, that she will be out of “the zone” and unable to get back into her work life.

      All of that work has though paid off, she now owns 12 houses in the Hamptons and is one of the most powerful people in NYC.

  • Mr.T

    In Europe we have 5-6 weeks holidays and we take them. But we also work when we work and don’t check Twitter and Facebook all day long…

  • I give you Bill Mahr’s fav commercial. 😉 He’s been making fun of this commercial alot. I couldn’t find it but the last bit he did in his last episode of last season was a bit of a spoof when he was about to take the whole month of August off. If you see a rerun, watch the last 10 minutes.

  • At Robin Powered ( we don’t count vacation or sick days. This was something we practiced from early days before spinning company off the product development one we run. Though our team is young (if we look at median age) yet exceptionally mature about work environment and balance, my co-founders and I constantly have to remind some colleagues to take time off. We want people having great relationships outside of the office, we want to see people getting engaged and married or be happy parents, which is very hard to do, if you are pounding out work 12+ hours each day. But it is something not possible without leadership team actively monitoring and encouraging folks. Even with this time off, team never missed a schedule, they never missed a deliverable, and we never had to fire anyone for taking advantage of the policy and messing it up for everyone else. (As ops guy, I hate dealing with accruals in accounting for these days, so it makes my life easier too.)

    Unfortunately, for us founders it isn’t that easy. I am a father too and I always feel guilty taking time off. I know I supposed to set an example, but I also know I have to serve my people and deal with BS, so they don’t have to. So finding a balance is not easy. Yes, you go on vacation occasionally, but you bring several phones and wireless data devices, so you are always reachable. I have never not looked at coverage maps to see which carrier has what where I am going. Only thanks to Google Drive/Docs, can I now not bring my laptop with me and do any necessary work just on the phone.

  • One of the best decisions I ever made was to take a solid few months completely off-grid and out-of-country. Nothing compares to that kind of reset.

  • Yup. As a point of reference, in Germany, workers log 400 hours LESS than US workers, 1300 hrs/ year vs. 1700 hrs/year. Several other Europe countries aren’t too far from Germany’s record.

    • Gennady Shenker

      1700 does not sound much for the USA 🙂 … 2200 is not unheard of :). High achievers log in 3500+ … and more.

      • True.
        I think that was an average number across the board.

      • Yes, but compare the productivity of the average German worker to the average US worker!

        German productivity is much higher I would suggest.

        • Gennady Shenker

          Love, love, love your name, Tinker_Noseyparker_Soldier_Spy 🙂
          Well, gotta admit, you got me there. But how many other European countries measure to Germany? If we get this outlier out of the sample, would then US become a similar outlier? What does the data say?

          Killed by my own sword! 🙂 … So, I asked my buddy Goggle to help me out with the data. Not to be accused of bias, I chose OECD data. Drum roll please ….

          Guess what? US is kicking butt all the way to Kansas! Even in recessionary years of late 1970’s:

          How do you like them, apples? 😉 😀

          • And I love your Russo-German name too. I was Christened that name after having I think, 14 to 16 people arrested for various offences around where I live between 2004 and 2008. At that point, the economy crashed and all of the trouble makers either went to jail, emigrated to America, Australia and Canada or simply had no money to go out and get drunk:-)

            I am rather the worse for wear today after going through half a bottle of whiskey last night and as a consequence, not in a fit state to rebut your post.

            I need lots of greasy food today not apples.

            Thank you for the reply.

  • To live harmoniously enough requires balance, I’d say, not to mention that truly efficient individuals have learned how to pace themselves.

    Speaking of the book “Startup Life”, it has been a big help in our relationship. My wife and I have listened to it in it’s entirely, together, and it’s brought us closer for sure. I strongly recommend that approach to other entrepreneurial couples.

    For one thing, I think it has made her realize that the “24/7 thing” is not going away soon, and we need to embrace it and make it part of our lifestyle.

    On the other hand, it’s made me wise up and not be such an arse by feeling compelled to have to fall asleep every night reading my Twitter feed on my phone in the bedroom; which would invariably fail to impress her, of course. I’ve put an end to that.

    It’s made us bond over common experiences. Just as Amy wasn’t too pleased in Paris when she was in dire need of food, on our arrival to San Francisco once, Sandy had gone hungry for too long and went completely ballistic on me. We had a good laugh during that passage of the book.

    Lastly, one more thing I found interesting is that Sandy is also OK with me working on my laptop when we watch TV together in the evening; and I have essentially the same reaction as Brad which is “Is this for real — as long as I just sit here I can still work? Nice!” 🙂

  • When it comes to taking vacation, I’m reminded of the work-life balance of the late Rebbe Manachem Schneerson, the late and last patriarch of the Chassidic community in Crown Heights, NY. Those closest to him say they think he took a half-hour break to just sit on his porch one time, but otherwise, he studied, counselled, and wrote countless letters to those who wrote him for advice and blessings — they say he would write back in almost any language written to him (dozens apparently). The question came, then, ‘How can I take a vacation from connecting and filling every moment with Godliness’ which is our purpose?

    I’ve marveled at this, as surely anything, however purposeful, must get tiring or stale. Even when I’m doing what puts me in a hyper-fulfilled zone, I’m still have to pace myself. They say Rebbe Schneerson maybe slept four hours a day, as there were people of all walks of life, from world leaders to children, lined up outside his door to confer with him, 24/7 for over 50 years until is passing in 1990.

    Anyway, I’m on a bucket-list vacation with my bride of 37 years next month. Off the grid; leaving my business cell phone at home.

  • Gennady Shenker

    I read somewhere that a New England Journal of Medicine editor posited that no modern research can be trusted. Way before this his observation, I read about a research that concluded that the minimum useful vacation is 3+ week. Apparently, the body does not began getting rest until about that time …

    Perhaps this is a research that cannot be trusted. You decide. I think that any vacation is better than no vacation.

  • I feel this way in SV. I’m constantly going month to month (my own doing) and it takes some time on a trip to decompress, and then when you do, the trip is over. I do not think it’s healthy.

    • Suzanne Sneed

      The way this nation is going…the decline of all that we know as right and normal, I am glad to live where I work. I refuse to even drive in the Houston traffic. My husband “drives Miss Daisey!” We love to travel, but we have found that “home” is the best place to be. But, Semil, life, in general is stressful. Just joined and believe I’m going to have fun with this. Enjoy your day!

  • I don’t think the US should be like Europe. At the same time, you need a break and it’s been shown to help psychologically, and help you perform at your best if you take some time off. A lot depends on your personality. I can be pretty intense, and it’s tough to pull away. One of the things I do with companies I invest in is encourage them to take some time away. As an investor, I think it gives them the peace of of mind and frees them to really enjoy time away. Taking time off and feeling guilty is the worst.

    • Why not? European productivity is so much higher than that of the US because we have longer holidays and therefore time to recharge? Germany for example, is perhaps one of the most productive countries on the planet.

      While the tax burden can in some instances exceed 50% in Scandinavia, the people there still have more disposable income than the people in America where the tax burden is equal to 24% of GDP and certainly Ireland (where I am from) where the tax burden is equal to 28% of GDP.

      This is because the tax (and social welfare system) in Scandinavia is geared towards enhancing productivity rather than mere wealth redistribution. Everybody there gets great healthcare and free child care up to a point, so even low paid jobs are a viable option. While in Sweden everyone must have a minimum amount of money to survive even if you are not interested in working, in Denmark, the concept of welfare for life has been abolished so you must cooperate with the government there if you want to continue having a roof over your head and food in your stomach.

      In southern Europe welfare ends after two years and in Spain, every year of work is worth four months of welfare. Likewise in much of Eastern Europe. In Ireland by contrast, we have both corporate welfare and social welfare. Ireland is by the way a stagnant mess much in the same way that France has been in a socialist time warp for the last forty years. But in France they do have fantastic roads, trains and health services.

      It depends on which part of Europe you are talking about.

      • Europeans are also much poorer than people in the United States by comparison. For example, Britain vs Alabama.

        American society has some dead weight loss, but it is the most innovative and productive culture on the planet. I don’t mean to demean other cultures, but the data over the last 100 years prove it out.

        America does need to redo its tax and welfare policy. I like the concept of basic income, as long as we get rid of everything else. Albert Wenger has blogged about it, and Milton Friedman was for it.

        • Britain is probably not the best example to use. Since the war, Britain has operated a policy of devaluation to remain competitive with the rest of the world, by contrast, Germany has done her best to enhance productivity. The outcome was that since the War, and even though they had been destroyed twice in the 20th century, Germany is now once again dominating Europe.

          In the 80’s, Mrs. Thatcher decided to focus on the banking industry and to a lessor extent, Britain’s military industrial complex at the expense of manufacturing in general. As a consequence, virtually all of Britain’s car industry and many other industries are foreign owned and 10% of Britain’s income now comes from the banking industry in the city of London, while the vast bulk of Britain’s income is generated in the south east of England. Northern Ireland has also been a huge drain on Britain’s finances over the last 40 years for obvious reasons.

          Britain is now contemplating exiting the EU and as a consequence, three US banks located in London have indicated that they will move to Dublin if this plan goes ahead. Many more banks in London will follow suit as Dublin would obviously be the only English speaking capital city left in the EU and we also operate a common law system of justice.

          If you were to compare Scandinavia, Germany, Austria and the Benilux countries with Alabama, you would find the people in those countries are much better off. Britain is merely the 51st state in the union with Ireland being the 52nd.

          America is the most innovative culture on the planet because it has always appreciated talent. There, you get where you want to go because of what you know rather than who you know as was the case in much of conservative old Europe and it certainly is still that way in Ireland. That explains why Ireland is in such a mess. When you put $h!t at the top, you are going to have $h!t the whole way down to the bottom.

  • How many hours do you work ? – About half of them !

    If you don’t take a break you are ineffective – period

  • Gennady Shenker

    Ok, I thought that, rather than being relegated to an asterisk in a comment-conversation below, this is worth a separate comment:

    I asked my buddy Goggle to help me out with the data. Not to be accused of bias, I chose OECD data. Guess what? Drum roll please ….

    US is kicking butt all the way to Kansas! Even in recessionary years of late 1970’s:

    How do you like them, apples? 😉 😀

    • Don’t worry, with a name like “Gennady Shenker”, you clearly have some great Russian and German blood in you, so you will never be reduced to asterisk!

      Thanks again for the response.

  • kris

    Yes, without doubt, the US is a no vacation nation. Taking a week here and there and still thinking about work, checking email and such, is not vacation. It is tremendously valuable, healthy and satisfying going completely off the grid every now and then. I agree with many commenters that Americans are super productive and the US is an innovation engine driving the world forward. If Americans would take their vacation time as seriously as their take their work they would probably be more productive, innovative and happier.

    I seriously question the approach of working hard most of your adult life until you enter retirement, and then in retirement not doing any work at all. This change of pace is too much change, too suddenly, and not good for your health. Research has shown that you need to continue to exercise that muscle called brain. It is better to start enjoying the good things in life today and take time to decompress, go off the grid and do nothing every once in a while. With extended life span, we may also need to work longer and retire later in life than we do today. With that in mind, it makes sense to take vacation time more seriously. I kinda like the idea of a global three day workweek as discussed here

  • Samantha

    I dig Bart’s style!

  • Rick

    Is Brad on his week off the grid or something?

    • Nope. Just haven’t felt like blogging this week.