Pi Attitude Zone: Conformity & Stability

All Work And No Play... [3]

As we saw in the previous two daily blogposts, Americans get less statutory vacation time than other geographies, for instance Europe.  One reason is that American law has little to say on the amount of paid holiday time people should be given. Instead, paid vacation time can variously be set by individual state conventions, employers’ HR departments, union agreements, school year calendars and so on.  Thanks to the principle of the lowest common denominator, vacations in the USA are shorter than those elsewhere.  And the lower the pay-scale, the less paid time off is granted;  only half of the lowest-paid quarter of workers in America get any paid leave at all.

There are cultural differences at work here.  Unlike Europeans, American workers never really learned to demand paid holidays as a right, or to take part of the reward for their labor in leisure time.  Employers still wonder why you would pay people for doing nothing, if you didn’t have to.  The overall result is an employment climate in which vacations are intrinsically down-valued by all concerned.

The effects of this go beyond the statistical reality of fewer holiday days.  They colonize people’s attitudes, too.  Americans seem to have a harder time than other people in distancing themselves from the daily grind. The office (or store, factory, warehouse or whatever) routinely gives people involuntary guilt trips while they “enjoy” holiday trip.

American employees seem anxious that they might be gone too long — the worry is that they will not be missed, or that absence might in some way put their job or status at risk. Unfinished work is a nagging doubt, spoiling any pleasure or relaxation the holiday is supposed to bring.  Indeed, some people just can’t let go and dedicate themselves to recreation. Others dread the day they have to go back to work. The job is always lurking in the background. The reach of internet, e-mail and mobile phones has made separating work from leisure significantly more difficult, since people obsessively check “incomings”, and can be reached at almost any time in almost any place.  Employers know this, and are not averse to manufacturing “emergencies” to remind their vacationing employees where their true loyalties should lie.

This mindset is clearly different from Europeans’.  Perhaps Americans identify themselves with their jobs in a different way from other people. Or perhaps the competitive and insecure nature of the U.S. undermines the wants and needs involved in taking time off.  Americans seem petrified, reasonably or not, of being outed as “slackers”.  (Which in itself could explain why “slacker” movies are so popular in the USA when the rest of the world finds them tiresome and incomprehensible.  For Americans they seem to represent fantasies of flipping the bird at their authoritarian employers).

But don’t look for this to change.  With unemployment still dominating people’s minds in the “jobless recovery”, American workers are going to feel more worried about taking time off, not less.

Zone: Conformity & Stability Country: USA / North America Product – Leisure