Dear America, you have cruel and unusual work practices

Dear America,

You know I love you. You’re funny and generous and have a great attitude. You’re pretty and you’ve been really good to me since we first got together in the late 90s. But we need to talk.

You’ve got some destructive habits, especially when it comes to work. And it’s making you look heartless and dumb (or maybe even cruel and unusual).

I know I’m from Europe where we do things a little bit differently, but it’s not just a style problem — what you’re doing is hurting millions of people. Where I’m from we have things like a minimum of four weeks paid holiday (what we call vacation) for full-time salaried workers. That’s the law. We also have more public holidays, which is particularly apposite as I started writing this post on Good Friday while in the office.

As you know, here in your land of the free, there’s no legally required amount of paid vacation time. None. A lot of organizations think they’re going out of their way to give you 10 days, and you know what’s weird? You guys accept it. Just as you accept longer working weeks. At least partly in the name of greater productivity.

Except it doesn’t work. Those slackers in Scandinavia and the Netherlands work fewer hours per week, and way fewer days per year, and I hate to tell you this, America, but they’re getting almost as much done, while spending more time with their families or on their hobbies. And they are healthier and happier.

A misplaced idea of productivity is part of the reason you do this to yourself, but it’s not just productivity for its own sake. It’s about your sense of self, America. So much of your identity comes from your work, and the presenteeism you espouse is important to how your see yourself, even if it’s damaging. Lots of you don’t even take all the limited holiday time you’re given. Learning to accept that there’s a better way is going take time, and I’m not discounting the power of big businesses who misguidedly think that more hours must mean more work. But as I said, individuals and business owners have a lot of responsibility for accepting this.

Come on America, I thought you were all about fearless experimentation and refusal to accept the status quo, so let’s see a bit of that for the benefit of everyone — workers, families and businesses. Fortunately, there is an increasing number of companies that are showing the way — real American heroes who want to work less, but better.

All the best,

David

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