All Work and No Holiday Makes Us Lousy Workers

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I’m about to take a holiday. If you can call it that. For the first two weeks in April, my sister and I are going to visit our very ill mom in Japan. It’s a 24-plus-hour trip, and factoring in (our kids’) jet lag, we’ll have maybe one good week of doctor visits, housecleaning and grandpa-sitting.

At many jobs, this one trip would gobble up the whole of my yearly allotment of vacation time. According to a report I just read:

Surveys show American workers average 14 days of vacation per year, compared to 39 in France, 27 in Germany, 24 in Great Britain and 19 in Canada.

That came from an employer called HomeAway, an online vacation rental company. Normally, I don’t get press releases from employers announcing how much vacation time they give their workers (good grief–who cares?). But this one is making a point:

Designed to buck national trends of overworked, stressed-out and vacation-starved employees, two-year-old HomeAway, Inc. today announced a forward-thinking vacation policy that gives its 100 U.S. employees four weeks of vacation a year, regardless of employee tenure.

My own employer stacks vacation time according to tenure, but, in line with my industry, holidays tend to be on the generous side. There’s a clear benefit for the employer: my colleagues and I might earn more elsewhere, but we stick around for the vacation time. It’s that big an enticement.

There’s another less quantifiable but anecdotally strong benefit: staffers come back from their jaunts to India, Africa or Maine visibly refreshed, rejuvenated–and more often than not, brimming with story ideas. Case in point: TIME science writer Christine Gorman filed many stories from her recent trips to Africa, including this excellent video.