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David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom: Europeans like vacations, Americans like work… Or do they?

By David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, July 22 2014 2:04 p.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, July 22 2014 2:04 p.m. MDT

Can you really be a productive employee if you want to take three full weeks off? Americans like to work…a lot. We, however, just don’t like the work we do, or who we do it for. Maybe it’s time to reframe how we see vacation.

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This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

The governments of Germany, Australia and Japan require employers to offer four weeks or more of paid vacation to workers. This is according to a study by the human resources consulting firm Mercer. Finland, Brazil and France guarantee six weeks off.

Are you jealous? Or are you secretly thinking there are a bunch of slackers in the world? Who needs that much time on a beach, right?

In the United States, we could point fingers at the government or at employers who don’t offer paid vacation. But, maybe, we should be pointing our fingers at something much bigger — our culture that believes, at its core, that the harder we work, the more we will succeed.

Here’s the caveat: There’s actually no proof that working harder (and not taking time off) leads to greater success.

In reviewing the World Economic Forum’s 2010-2011 rankings of the most competitive economies, the United States came in fourth. Sweden, which mandates five weeks of paid time off, came in second. And, these studies don’t account for the personal burdens that accompany never taking time off.

The truth, in fact, is that vacations are necessary to well-being and performance. Clinical psychologist Francine Lederer, who specializes in stress and relationship management, said, “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound. Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation.”

But, still, a three-week vacation? Can you really be a passionate, engaged, productive employee if you want to take three full weeks off? Doesn’t it, at least inside our American psyche, feel a little bit like a lack of commitment?

Enter the big twist and ever-so-confusing conundrum about how we as Americans feel about vacation.

A study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies reveals that working more makes Americans happier than it does Europeans. The study’s author, Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, said, “Americans maximize their… (happiness) by working, and Europeans maximize their (happiness) through leisure.”

These findings feel spot on. Work to many of us, and especially long days full of hard work, is a symbolic source of pride.

Yes, we say we like to work. According to research firm Ipsos, only 57 percent of Americans use all the paid vacation they’re offered from their employer. And, considering that the average worker in the United States gets 13 days of paid vacation each year, it would be easy to assume that our productivity levels must be sky high.

Go ahead and puff up your chest with pride. Americans like to work … a lot.

We, however, just don’t like the work we do, or who we do it for.

The big twist to this whole scenario is the variety of studies that show just how disengaged we are at work. The widely known workplace study by Gallup reveals that nearly 70 percent of us are not engaged in our work. And a joint survey conducted by Yahoo! Finance and Parade magazine of 26,000 Americans found that almost 60 percent would choose a different career.

How is it possible to be so anti-vacation and anti-work at the same time? Maybe it’s time to reframe how we see vacation.

If you’re smiling right now and thinking “This seemingly contradictory information is ironic, because it’s exactly how I feel — I’m not fully satisfied at work, but can’t bring myself to take extra time away from the office,” then we’ve got some advice.

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