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A Few Days in the Sun? US Workers Get Less

SUMMER means vacation time for employees all over the world. But as European workers head to sun-soaked beaches for weeks at a time, their American and Japanese counterparts are more likely to cram leisure into hectic long weekends.

A recent study by William M. Mercer Inc., a New York-based consulting firm, found that managers and professionals employed with the same company for 10 years in the United States and Japan take an average of 20 vacation days a year. In France, Sweden, and Germany employees take as many as 32 days a year.

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Labor protection laws are partly responsible for the disparity. European countries, as well as Mexico and Japan, require employers to give a minimum number of vacation days. Swedish employees enjoy 30 days of government-mandated vacation, while Americans depend solely on employer generosity.

But governmental influence aside, Japanese and American professionals are still more likely to sacrifice play time for work.

"In the US and Japan, attitudes toward work are similar and it's just not acceptable to take long vacations," says Angela Nesbitt, a Mercer consultant.

The Japanese government is encouraging professionals to take vacations, hoping to convince them that time off will actually improve their productivity.

"There is the sense in Japan that men are working themselves crazy," says Frank Pasquale, a cultural anthropologist at International Orientation Resources, in Northbrook, Ill.

Differing attitudes toward vacation are rooted in cultural and historical trends, Mr. Pasquale says. While the US and Japan view rigorous work ethics as part of their national identity, European countries have developed an appreciation for a balance between work and pleasure, he adds.

"It's the difference between cultures that live to work and cultures that work to live," says Noel Kreicker, director of International Orientation Resources.

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American and Japanese workers also have more discretionary income to spend during their free time. As a result, when American and Japanese professionals do take vacations, they tend to do much more.

"In both countries, there is more incentive in the direction of spending money, and leisure activities are expensive," says Juliet Schor, author of "The Overworked American."

"In Europe, people tend to stay put and rejuvenate," she says.

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