What Countries Offer the Most Paid Time Off?

Most of us wish we had more paid time off afforded us each year. Here we explore the number of vacation days that employees in different countries are entitled to — and how their holiday allowances measure up.

In the United States, the land of the free, paid time off (PTO) may not be all that great when stacked up against other countries' paid time away from work. Mercer's 2009 Worldwide Benefit and Employment Guidelines offers an international look at statutory holiday allowance — the amount of paid time off, by law, that employers are obligated to give employees — as well as national public holidays.

The results, calculated as the national average entitlement of an employee working five days a week with an employment history of 10 years, are surprising.

The countries leading the world in state-mandated annual leave are Finland, Brazil and France, with annual holiday allowance minimums coming in at 30 days per year for each nation.

India, Canada and China have the lowest holiday allowance minimums, with India only requiring their employees to take 12 days of annual holiday allowance, and Canada and China both requiring 10. However, what India lacks in annual holiday allowance it makes up for with public holidays — India is No. 1 in that category, with 16 public holidays each year.

When taking both annual public holidays and mandated holiday allowances into consideration, Brazil and Lithuania seem to have the sweetest deal. With 30 days of holiday allowance and 11 public holidays, Brazilians enjoy 41 paid days off per year — no wonder they maintain such a high FIFA ranking. Lithuania, too, topped the list with 41 days per year: 28 days of holiday allowance and 12 public holidays.

France, Finland and Russia are close seconds, each receiving a total of 40 days of PTO annually.

Meanwhile, Canada and China offer only 19 and 21 days of total PTO, respectively, while the U.S. and Singapore fare only marginally better, each offering around 25 days of PTO annually.

However, the U.S. differs from most other nations in one substantial way: Federal law does not mandate pay for time not worked. Although there is no statutory minimum holiday allowance, the typical national average for holiday allowance is around 15 days off annually (which is more than the 10 days Canada requires). While many U.S. workers aren't entitled to an allowance per se, many Americans may find themselves with varying amounts of paid days off depending on experience, company position and industry.

"There are often wide variations in the local implementation of employment practices governing public holidays," Matthew Hunt, a principal of Mercer's international team, explains in a summary of the findings. "Employers are often within their rights to ask employees to work on public holidays, or require that they be taken as part of their annual leave entitlements."

Furthermore, holiday allowances and public holiday entitlements may not be indicative of how many hours a person is actually working. In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) latest data on global work hours per week, nations were ranked according to "average annual hours actually worked per worker."

Of the nations analyzed by the OECD, Greece led the way with 2,120 average annual hours worked in 2008, or 41 hours worked per week. Yet Greece ranked No. 8 in total paid days off, with an average of 37. Not only do Greeks enjoy more paid annual leave, they also put in more working hours than many other nations.

U.S. employees logged an average 1,792 working hours annually in 2008, beating France, Germany and the Netherlands, who clocked an average of 1,542, 1,432 and 1,389 annual hours, respectively. France has the third-highest number of annual paid days off, at 40 days, while both Germany and the Netherlands enjoy significantly fewer days off, with annual paid holiday allowances of 30 days and 28 days, respectively. Still, their holiday allowances surpass the typical amount provided in the U.S.

The bottom line? Just because you're enjoying more time off doesn't necessarily mean you're less productive. Maybe it's time to go Greek.


2009 Worldwide Benefits and Employment Guidelines

Mercer, July 2009

Employee Statutory and Public Holiday Entitlements - Global Comparisons

Mercer, Oct. 13, 2009

Average Annual Hours Actually Worked Per Worker

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Nov. 3, 2009

Work Hours Per Week Around the World

BillShrink.com, Aug. 13, 2009

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