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By Jack Ganssle


Published 5/01/2006

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 <i>anywhere</i> 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, <i>plus</i> 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?