Should America adopt international standards on paid time off?
- The US Department of Labor states that according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the government 'does not require payment [to workers] for time not worked, such as vacations, sick leave or federal or other holidays. These benefits are matters of agreement between an employer and an employee (or the employee's representative).'
- A recent chart compiled by Statista of 'minimum paid leave and public holidays' per year for member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that Austria has the most number, 38, while Americans are only granted ten days off a year.
- Pew Research ranks the US last in paid maternity leave for new parents, with zero weeks allotted by law. Estonia ranks first, with 86 weeks granted by the government.
- Research from the US Travel Association, Oxford Economics, and Ipsos found that '768 million US vacation days went unused' in 2018.
America is ranked tenth in the world for having the most hours worked per year, far above most of our counterparts in Europe. We are also not guaranteed any paid sick time or paid maternity leave. It's time for America to follow suit with many other developed nations and adopt international standards of paid time off.
Our philosophy of the 40-hour workweek is less than 100 years old and is credited to Henry Ford. While it was a good move to reduce hours worked following the days of indentured labor, it is outdated in today's more automated society.
Not having enough paid time off actually decreases productivity. The lack of work-life balance leads to increased stress and decreased mental health, resulting in a society that is mentally and physically exhausted. It leads to a culture that lacks creativity, reflection, and time for family bonding.
Because people realize that overworking is not a good way to spend their lives, many are switching to gig work. While this does provide some freedom, it also comes with many pitfalls, including a lack of insurance and many other safety nets.
Countries like Spain, Austria, and Japan give more than a month of paid time off each year. All of these countries have happier workers who are nearly just as productive but also have time for self-improvement and the expression of creativity.
The Great Resignation and ample research overwhelmingly highlight the need for the US to reevaluate and adjust how we treat our workers regarding work-life balance.
The intention behind adopting international standards on paid time off is to improve the quality of life of working people; however, in reality, it would hurt current and prospective employees. A company's cost-per-employee would be raised, which would lead to diminished hiring capacity, layoffs, and in extreme cases, bankruptcy.
These standards, if adopted, would also increase the minimum threshold to start a business through cost and complexity, which would decrease the number of new companies being formed and could lead to a more stagnant economy.
Furthermore, adopting these standards would favor big companies while especially hurting small businesses--currently employing nearly half of US workers--who may not be able to afford these standards and who may have trouble keeping up with changing regulations. As Lisa Horne of the Society for Human Resource Management says, increasing government-mandated paid leave 'limits workplace flexibility and company innovation.' Because businesses are so varied in size, a 'one-size-fits-all' approach simply wouldn't benefit the American economy in the long run.
Additionally, perhaps if businesses were thriving and the economy were robust, such measures could be viable. But, in the wake of the global pandemic and the resulting significantly weakened supply chain, the economy and small businesses are still recovering. According to Vice President Kamala Harris, approximately one-third of American small businesses were shuttered during the pandemic, and some economists have projected that America's GDP may be lower by 3 to 4 trillion dollars over the next couple of years.
Instead of helping workers, adopting international standards on paid time off would ultimately hurt them through limited employment options from companies' diminished hiring capacities and the stagnating creation of new businesses.