Vacation -


Last Thursday's Wall Street Journal printed the results of an interesting poll. 4851 people responded to the question: “What's the longest time you can get away from work for a vacation?” The results were disturbing.

9% can get away for less than a week.

35% manage just one week.

A paltry 37% get two weeks.

10% responded with three.

A lucky 9% get away for a month or more.

No doubt all or most respondents were US workers, who seem to typically get a pathetic two weeks a year of holiday time. With two working spouses in most households it's pretty hard to not use up a week of that dealing with car repairs, shuffling kids around, and all of the exigencies of modern life. A week ” if that ” of honest time idling under the sun or exploring a new city is about the most one can expect. Yet since it typically takes a week to cast off the frenzy and start to really relax, few people manage to shuck the stress at all.

According to in various countries legislated vacation time ranges from nothing to some 6 weeks of time away from the office. Even in Tunisia, which most Americans probably can't place on the map, and which most of us probably consider backwards, workers get 30 days, as does Spain and France. In fact, the average time off for the 41 countries listed is 16.5 days per year. Slightly more than half of the listed States mandate four or more weeks off per year.

According to the Wikipedia article, short holidays are endemic to North America. Mexican workers get one week. Canadians: two weeks, depending on provincial law. US workers average 10 days.

Though Australians apparently have no legislated vacation time, Wikipedia claims most get 4 weeks off. Their island is so remote that going anywhere for a break requires a long international flight. And Aussies turn up everywhere; I run into them (in bars mostly) in every corner of the world.

Germans are the luckiest of all: 24 work days off per year, plus 9 to 13 bank holidays.

Though Europeans have long received many weeks of vacation each year, informal correspondence with readers suggests that for many the rush of work in this global economy has started chipping away at their off time.

I collect embedded disaster stories. A handful of themes run through these. “Tired people” figures prominently. Tired people make mistakes. Mistakes ” bugs ” require rework. Capers Jones, in a study of 4000 software projects, found bugs to be the number one cause of missed schedules. So not taking time off leads to late projects.

What do you think? How does your vacation time affect your job performance?

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. Contact him at . His website is .


I almost automatically checked-off the two(2) week box! This is the normal amount of time most US high-tech workers get for vacation time.

However…if you factor in all the other time-off, or 'real vacation time', then you get a number that very closely approximates 3+ weeks. Of course, I am including Presidents day, 4th July, Christmas, Labor day, Memorial day.

All of these days adds approximately one whole week to the normal 2 weeks of summer vacation.

Not to mention winter-plant shutdowns…these are the days in between Christmas and New Years that most people opt out of.

– Ken Wada

I think the standard vacation time should be three weeks. But in addition, I think the American work day should be changed from 8 hours down to an efficient 6 hours per days. I think a 30 hour work week would be so much better for our society.

– Steve

I am fortunate, I suppose. My company has 9 paid holidays (including our birthday) in addition to one week per 5 years of service (maximum 3 wks). Most of the engineering/techie types I know seem to think this is a lot.

– Michael

Just to refute the statement: Less hours, better quality code:

The “most expensive computer bug in history” was programmed ( despite the 5Weeks holliday / 35h a Week!

– Antoine Elbel

Wow, who are all these people that get a month or more vacation per year? And where do they work? 😉

– Debi Cole

My company combined all forms of time off into what is called 'Personal Time Off'. Sick time and vacation do not exist any more. I cannot complain because I have 200 hours per year. However, I am also glad I have an office with a door. I don't have to put up with the sick people who are at work to save their PTO.

– John Anderson

I think that the main thrust of the question is being missed – what's the most time you can GET AWAY from work! I get 4 weeks of vacation per year (I've been here a LONG time) but I generally can't take more than a week off at a time, as right now, I'm the only electronics person at the plant. You are right about one thing – it typically takes about a week to “decompress”, but then you have to go back to work! Sometimes I think that, despite the scheduling hassles, an enforced month off for everyone would be best, but having never tried it, I can't say for sure. I do try to take “mini” vacations where we don't travel a long ways, but just try and relax for a day or so. Those seem to help!

– Dave Telling

Vacation? What's a vacation?

– Hugh Shane

The standard vacation offering at my company is 2 weeks with a 3rd week after 5 years, a 4th week after 10 years, and very recently, a 5th week after 20 years. After 11 years here, 4 weeks is not too bad I guess. Still, I do wish I had negotiated at least one more week of vacation when I was first hired, as some of my vacation-savvy co-workers had done. You can always get raises and salary adjustments later, but the vacation just seems so tough to come by.

By the way, if you think you're fortunate with getting 3 weeks of vacation, compare yourself to Intel employees, where every regular, full-time employee gets an 8-week paid sabbatical every 7 years in addition to his/her regular vacation and personal time: Do you think Intel knows the value of R&R?

– Chris Maynard

One of my casual observations (although I can't really back it up with hard statistics) is that some of these countries with large mandated vacations seem to have quite high unemployment. Is this coincidence, or is there a correlation?

– Gary Butterfield

Many companies allow employees to take UNPAID time off at will. If you want more vacation time, just allocate 2% of your salary and buy more time.

When you think of it that way, who wouldn't take a 2% pay cut to get an extra week of vacation?

– Steve K

You can never get enough vacation. I have been in the engineering field for 19 years (between 2 jobs) and I still only get 3 weeks vacation. I find it difficult to manage those 3 weeks so that I can actually have off 7 days in a row. I have 2 1/2 more years until I get 4 weeks. If I were in management, I would now have 4 weeks and in 2 1/2 years would get 5! Those guys get all the perks.

On the other hand vacations may be overrated. You have to bust your tail to get things done before you go, then have to bust your tail to get caught up when you return. You get wipped out before and after the time off.

– Richard Policy

You should never take vacation, you should only take long weekends. Here's why:

The first part of vacation is spent trying to relax and shift into vacation mode.

This is followed by a brief period where you are actually relaxed an in a vacation-like state.

Then you realize you are due back at the office in a couple days, and the rest of your vacation is spent dreading the return to the “real” world.

You arrive back at work in worse shape than when you left.

– Larry Brunson

After a reasonable salary, the two most important considerations for any position are flexibility in their workday (I'm an early-morning person) and either comp time or vacation time. I would willingly give up salary (above a certain point – still got bills to pay) in order gain time off. In fact, I've DONE that. Time to unwind is even more important as our world speeds up.

– Andy Kunz

In order to gauge true rejuvenation, the question might be better asked, “how much contiguous time off do you get?” Most people I know get 2 or maybe 3 weeks, but either can't take anything more than a few days at a time or the “project” will die.

– Grant Beattie

No vacations! Do more bug fixes!!!!!

– Vinay

Yeah! What is a vacation, anyway? I took a few in the past where I actually took enough time to actually spend 2 weeks “on vacation”, and it almost killed me. Having fun is hard work. I now live in a heavily wooded part of the Sierra Nevada foothills and haven't had an urge to go on vacation in years. I kinda chuckle to myself as I live near one of the places people go on vacation out here and I see them all the time with enough of their possesions in tow or on board to try to make a week in the wild bearable (no pun intended). When I take time off now I spend it at home enjoying what I have been working so hard to pay for.

– Don McCallum

Jack Replies – Don, did you see The Flim Flam Man? In it the young guys shows his place in the woods to George C Scott. It's a shack, and the kid is embarrassed about it. Scott says: “Are you kidding? Most people work 50 weeks a year to spend two weeks in a place like this!”

From the perspective of a Brit in Germany, I'm fairly content. In the UK I got 25 days paid plus the 8 statutory holidays – this is not unusual. In Germany I get 30 days paid plus (this year) 11 statutory days – again, this is not unusual. German employers are required (by law) to try to give an employee up to three weeks contiguous time off if it's requested, but I'm asking for four so I can spend time with my family in the UK.

You guys out there (in the US) need to get more vacation time. German engineering is pretty good, and doesn't seem to suffer gnerally (there are always exceptions) from excessive vacation!

– Paul Tiplady

I think you make a good point. Tired workers are less productive. But Ithink it only holds for knowledge intensive work. The tiredness you get fromfactory work sleeps out in one night (that is my experience) Here in theNetherlands during our studies we work during the long vacation periods ofthe factory workers to make some extra money 🙂

By the way, in the Netherlands, by law, we get at least 20 days + the normalvacation days (7 at most because some fall at sundays/saturdays)

By most collective contracts 5 days are added. Also the standard workweekavaerages from 34 (mostly government) – 40 (business) hours.

By the collective contract my workweek is 38 hours, but we have to work 40hours. This is compensated by antother 13 days of leave instead of extrawages. (2h*52wk/8h=13d)

I think as an American you think these European vacations are out ofproportion. But you have to look at the salaries also. Can't you buy extravacation time in the US?

I can sell some of mine 🙂 (The 5 collective added days + the 13 received byworking)

In the Netherlands it seems we do a good Job. The total Job participation islow (lot of people work part-time), but the productivity per worked hour isone of the highest in the world. This would also backup for the point youmake.

– anonymous

According to Rusian Law of Employment, any employee has a month for a vacation, ten days for a Christmass holidays, and 5 days for National Holidays. So we are out of office 46 days in year.!!!!!

Vitaliy Kovalenko
St. Petersburg, Russia

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