A Call For More Vacation Time - Embedded.com

A Call For More Vacation Time

I'll bet you're not reading this. It's August, so surely you're deep into a well-deserved month off, the normal August shut-down that all of us get, with pay. That's just a chunk of our vacation time, though; we've still got another couple of weeks banked for the upcoming holidays.


Americans work too much. Fifty weeks a year we slave away, driving through horrible traffic, dropping the kids off at school or day-care, braving another onslaught of traffic to the office. We're there at 8 AM, prepared to crank like maniacs till the bell rings nine hours later. Lunch? Wolf a sandwich down at the desk. Breaks? Ha!

No wonder we drink so much coffee.

Did your honey send an email during the workday? Guiltily you quickly scan it, ready at any moment to hide the email reader behind a compiler window if the boss appears. Need to slip out to take care of pressing personal business? Better log it on the time card so those paragons of virtue in accounting can dock that 34 minutes from your personal leave time. Meanwhile, the big bosses are negotiating seven-figure loan deals sans repayment clauses.

As exempt employees, lucky developers even get to work plenty of unpaid overtime. What a country! The project is late because the boss arbitrarily cut the schedule in half, so now you're in trouble, your annual review is coming up, and the layoffs have started. Work harder! More hours!

A year shoots by. Fifty weeks gone. You've probably logged 2,500 hours or more. Time to take a solid two weeks off to decompress and become vaguely human again.

“What!” the boss roars. “You want two weeks off all at once! What if something comes up? We can't allow that. Take a long weekend.”

Even in the best of circumstances, two weeks is a paltry ten workdays, equivalent to less than one day per month. It's easy and common to squander that just getting though the year. A day here or there to see the kids' plays, take care of the car repairs, and the like means we never get a solid block of vacation time. An awful lot of people call in with a false flu report, lie about mom's sudden demise, or otherwise convert sick leave into extended personal leave.

We're stress puppies, pushed too hard by work and life, with no margins for error or recovery. Crash is inevitable. Divorce, job dissatisfaction, disenfranchised families and latchkey kids are the norm. What are we doing? What sort of society are we building? When is there time for us?

France takes August off. Plus they get another couple of weeks of holiday time each year. That's pretty much the rule throughout a lot of Europe. Seems pretty enlightened to me. Some might say that reflects Europe's lack of innovation, but page through the ads in ESP. Nohau, IAR, and a host of other continental companies provide an awful lot of tools and support to the world.

Steven Covey tells us to put first things first. Yet it seems most of us try to squeeze in a life around the job.

Does this make sense?

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. He founded two companies specializing in embedded systems. Contact him at . His website is

Reader Feedback


Yes I agree with you.

It happens many times every the year. You always give higher priority to the work rather than to yourself, your family and other important tasks. They always get preempted by more important task.

Abhijit Thakoor
Sr. Software Engineer
Patni Computers Ltd.

Good things about working for a European Owned Company in the US.

1) More Vacation Sooner (Still am only going to manage 1 week used doingvacation stuff)

2) More tolerance for legitimate family/health time

3) Gives Junior staff some time to try their hand at making decisions whilethe supervisor is on vacation.

4) Less expectation for 80 hour work weeks.

Bad things.

1) They expect the government to supply most of your pension needs likehealth care, income, etc.

2) Time difference means unplanned hours in the early AM sometimes.

3) Staff from the UK and some other countries are painfully lax about evalating real liability and litigation risks and required good design practices for avoiding US litigation.

(Think that for example IEC1950 does not have a US counterpart (UL1950) and think that 100 entries in a database might mean 80 entries is OK if the entries are long) (So are some previous US managers / leads)

Bill Murray

Of course it does not make sense. How many people are at their most productive after 12 hours, shabby food and mega caffeine? And then they repeat that 344 days a year. And I don't think American software companies are putting out the highest quality software. Quantity has never quaranteed quality. Everyone should just take a break (a long break) and gain some perspective.

Susan McCord

Great one, Jack! Sorry to inform you, it looks the same here… 🙁

Dejan Durdenic
DILOGIC, Croatia

To answer your question, of course the long hours and short holidayspeople take in the U.S. make sense if the job is the most importantthing in their lives. I think for most Americans it is, why elsewould most continue working as they have for so many years?

I doubt competitive pressures is the cause. I am an American livingand working in Germany, which has some of the highest labor and socialcosts in the world. A typical salary, for example, is taxed at a 40%average and 74% marginal rate. This is worse than in Sweden, theformer champion of these things! Given the huge pool of easternEurope talent able to work at much lower salaries, if anything, the costpressures in Germany are even worse than the U.S. Yet, my colleaguesand friends always seem to find the time to socialize, relax, and tendto their families. They know work is important, but not THATimportant.

I hope more people in the U.S. would understand this since I expect toreturn some day. I know breaking old habits is hard. On my lastperformance review I was criticised for not socializing enough with mycolleagues. They are always good fun to talk to, but if I am beingpaid for a 40 hour week, I like to earn my keep. I think they wereunhappy because I didn't want to go bowling with them. 🙂

With regards from John,
Schloss Bremerhaven am Weser

I just read your article on the ESP web page. (btw, I loved your article on scheduling lies (damn lies, I believe) I agree with you and have felt this way for some time. After spending over a month in Poland working very hard for people who came to work at 10:00 AM and left for long lunches and then went home for the day around 4:00 PM while I was working from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM making my own lunches so I could keep working, taught me that they had it more right than we as Americans did. How much nicer life would be to have all that time for ourselves/family/personal interests.

The question is what can we do about it? Can there be a more dramatic culture change than what you are suggesting? At least we can dream.


Steve King
SW Engineer

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