How the World Works: Vacation Policies

In many countries around the world, paid time off is a right granted to workers by the government. In others, employees are entirely at the mercy of their employer. By setting up and looking at employee timesheets or employee activity logs, businesses can easily determine who needs a much-deserved break.

As we approach the middle of the year (and summer holidays in the Northern Hemisphere), it’s worth exploring some of the nuances in vacation policies around the world. It’s not just the law that determines how much time workers spend away from the office. It’s also a question of culture. In some countries, workers are much more inclined to take time off. In others, ditching your job for weeks at a time is more likely to be viewed with suspicion or even disdain.

United States

The U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries that does not impose any mandatory minimum paid time off (PTO) for employees. Businesses have no obligation to offer vacation to workers. As a result, it is common for entry-level or part-time employees to not get any vacation – and unlike in many other countries, employers in the U.S. are not required to give their workers the day off for certain holidays.

The lack of legal requirement, however, obviously does not prevent employers from offering vacation or paid holidays. The culturally accepted minimum is two weeks of vacation for full-time, salaried employees. Employees tend to earn more PTO the longer they stay with an organization. As a result, when taking into account holidays and vacation, the average U.S. employee gets 16 paid days off a year.

Americans, however, also experience tremendous pressure to not take the vacation time they have earned. According to a 2016 study, more than half of U.S. workers do not use all of their vacation days. But even those who use their vacation days aren’t necessarily using them to take “a vacation.” A survey in 2015 found that less than half of Americans said they had taken a week-long trip more than 100 miles away from home in the last year. 



Perhaps no country suffers from a greater case of workaholism than Japan. In addition to 15 public holidays, Japanese employees are guaranteed a minimum of ten days of paid vacation and are entitled by law to earn an additional day for every year they remain with an employer, but many Japanese workers simply can’t bring themselves to take the time off.

Japan’s labor ministry reports that despite receiving 18 days of vacation from his employer, the average Japanese worker only takes nine days off a year. Another survey found that more than half of Japanese workers aren’t even able to say how many days of vacation they get a year, most likely because they know they won’t come close to using them all.

Overworking in Japan has become such a problem that there is even a Japanese word, Karōshi, which describes death due to work-related exhaustion. The Japanese government has considered requiring workers to take at least five days of vacation a year. 


The French don’t need any encouragement to take time off. The inventors of savoir-vivre famously say that they work to live, not the other way around.

The French government requires employers to offer full-time workers a minimum of 30 days of paid vacation in addition to 11 public holidays. Of course, there are some employees who get far more. For instance, employees of Paris-based EDF, the world’s largest electric utility, get a whopping 10 weeks of vacation, as long as they work 39.5 hours per week (the standard French workweek is 35 hours).

Despite their affinity for vacation, French workers are surprisingly productive. While they work far less than employees in the U.K., they produce significantly more value per hour worked than the Brits.   


The Land Down Under is something of a compromise between the American and European extremes. Aussie workers are entitled to 20 days of paid vacation a year as well as nine public holidays.

Long Service Leave (LSL) is often available to encourage workers to stay long-term with an organization, as they are paid out after a decade. LSL is accrued for both full-time and casual workers, which means that in most case you can expect to receive around 13 weeks of leave after 15 years of employment. Additionally, many Australians benefit from Time Off In Lieu (TOIL) that allows an employee to work overtime and then instead of being paid those extra hours worked, can accrue these for paid time off, adding to extra vacation hours.

Australians tend to make good use of their vacations, frequently traveling abroad to distant destinations on Earth’s six other continents. Nearly a third of Aussies leave the country a year. That stands in stark contrast to the U.S., where only about a third of citizens even have passports.


Chinese workers are not known for taking it easy and their vacation habits reflect their reputation. Nearly three-quarters of Chinese workers say they have not taken a paid vacation in the past years, with many saying that they wouldn’t dare ask permission or worry that it would harm their career.

Legally, however, Chinese vacation policy is more generous than in the United States. All Chinese workers who have worked between one and 10 years with an employer are entitled to five days of paid vacation. Those with between 10 and 20 years of service have the right to 10 days of vacation and those who have worked even longer are supposed to get a minimum of 15 days off a year.

Times are changing

There will never be universal agreement on how much vacation time workers should receive. Nevertheless, by using an accurate and reliable time card application for on the clock employees, employers can fully appreciate the amount of labor being devoted to their company.

Employers are increasingly recognizing the value of offering (or even mandating) vacation for their employees. First, it’s a valuable recruitment tool, as people increasingly associate time off as a key consideration when joining a company. Second, it helps prevent burnout by giving employees time to recuperate from the physical and psychological toil of work. And finally, the reset away from the job can help everyone feel way more productive and focused when they return.

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