Many experts on worker productivity believe that vacations help rejuvenate people and, therefore, they can work more efficiently. The point of view could be a myth. The United States remains the only nation that does not have vacation times mandated by law, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. And that may be a situation that gives America a competitive edge.
Workers in Spain and Portugal each get 22 paid holidays. In Spain, people get another 12 vacation days. In Portugal, the figure is 13. That puts the two nations at the top of the list among nations where people get the most time off. Italy is close with 31 vacation days and holidays. France also mandates 31, which places it near the top.
It is worth noting that unemployment in Spain and Portugal are very high. Italy is close, and the French economy is falling apart. There is not, at least according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a link between vacation days and unemployment. However, between them, the number of workers unemployed and the number of people on vacation drive economies that are not efficient in terms of worker productivity.
The weakness of this argument is that people who work without vacations might drive up their productivity, and this in turn actually may push unemployment higher. In other words, a lot of vacation time may do nothing to damage the economy. Shrinking economies do not need unusually productive workers. There is not enough work to go around.
However, at the other end of the spectrum are Japan, at 10 days, and the United States, at zero. While each may have economic problems, each also has had strong GDP growth in the past, which has helped create two of the three largest countries by gross domestic product. Whether worker efficiency is at the heart of what is normally low unemployment in Japan and the United States historically probably cannot be linked any more than vacation days to awful economies of Europe.
But the coincidences between vacation days and the strength of long-term economic improvements are too great to ignore. All those people with four weeks off may be the critical factor to lax worker behavior. And that almost certainly does not help GDP. In the United States, on the other hand, labor is uninterrupted, and that drives an efficient workplace.