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By Jack Ganssle

Vacation Time

Published 6/01/2009

Two weeks of annual vacation is crap. It's borderline indentured servitude. Yet that's the norm in the USA.

Two weeks of vacation generally means a one week break, as it's just too easy to burn up five days taking care of car repairs, sick kids, and all of the multitudes of problems endemic to our hectic lifestyles.

Yet one doesn't really start to relax and shake off the mental hassles of work till after about 10 days away from the office. So it's hard to see imagine that most American engineers ever manage to get a real break.

The global work environment means more vacation time makes a company less competitive. Yet two weeks has been standard for years - maybe forever - on this side of the pond, since long before our technology started flattening the world.

There's always an essential tension between the needs of employees and those of the company. Corporations drive down benefits to minimize costs and thereby gain market share.

Of course, Henry Ford, doubled his worker's salaries. The result: more auto workers could afford cars. Business boomed.

(Some histories state that Ford also had a problem retaining skilled workers. Prior to the assembly line craftsmen took great pride in their creations. The mind-numbing repetition of the assembly line drove these proud workers away from the factories. More pay yielded lower turnover.)

Today, vacations are often just slightly less frenetic work days, since email and the cell phone means one is never out of touch.

I can't imagine that the European model of 6 weeks would work here. Especially hard would be taking off huge blocks of contiguous time. Four weeks away from the office might make one expendable.

But a week at Christmas would be nice. Plus another week for miscellaneous odds and ends. And a two week hiatus during the summer.

What do you think? What's the right amount of vacation time? Would you be willing to trade off some income in favor of more time off?