Guess Which Country Has The Most Paid Holiday Vacation? Hint, Not The U.S.

According to a new study from the Mercer consulting firm, the U.S. once again doesn’t come out on top when it comes to employee benefits. Employees in Western European countries, on average, have access to the greatest amount of statutory paid holiday in the world, according to research by Mercer. Workers in the UK have, on the face of it, one of the most generous statutory holiday entitlements (28 days) while workers in the US have the least with no statutory holiday entitlement. Good grief.

This and the fact that we don’t even use all of our vacation days, may be contributing to the results of the 2011 Work Stress Survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Everest College. It found that a whopping 77% of Americans are stressed at work, with low pay the most common reason cited (14%). “A break from the daily routine is essential in maintaining employee wellbeing,” said Dr. Lorna Friedman, Partner in Mercer’s Global Health Management practice. “Companies that keep holiday provision as low as possible in order to reduce lost income from absent workers may find that their employees are less robust, in poorer health and crucially, less productive. It’s key to create a culture of health in the workplace and employees will take the message home with them and look after their health outside work as well.”

The UK is followed by Greece, Austria, France, Sweden, Luxembourg, Finland and Denmark (all 25 days).  In Italy, Belgium, Germany, Cyprus, Ireland, Switzerland and the Netherlands employees are entitled to 20 days statutory holidays. Cyprus offers the highest number of public holidays (15) followed by Malta and Spain (both 14) and Austria and Portugal (both 13). The UK and the Netherlands have the lowest number of public holidays in Europe.Poland (26 days) offers employees the most generous holiday entitlements in Eastern Europe, followed by Hungary (23.) The United Arab Emirates (UAE) with 22 days make provision for the greatest amount of statutory holidays in the region, followed by Morocco (18), Lebanon (15) and South Africa (15.) Employees in Venezuela receive 24 days’ holiday leave followed by Brazil and Peru (both 22), Argentina (20) and Mexico (16), with Colombia and Chile both offering employees the regions least generous entitlement of 15 days.

It turns out in North America, Canada and the U.S. are among the least generous countries when it comes to statutory holidays. U.S. federal law does not mandate pay for time not worked and holiday policies vary widely. Many organizations in the U.S. provide three weeks of vacation after five to ten years of service and unionized employees generally have vacation time specified under collective agreements. In Canada, mandatory vacation entitlements vary between provinces and companies typically supplement statutory requirements and some organizations provide up to six weeks vacation after 20 or 25 years of service

According to Friedman, “Despite continued economic turmoil, interest in the issue work/life balance continues to grow. From the employees and company’s perspective, health creates wealth. Companies recognize that a healthy, happy workforce is a productive one and this feeds directly into the bottom line. How companies interpret holiday regulations provision is a major factor. With pay rises muted and often below the rate of inflation, companies are searching for other ways to motivate their staff. Flexible working and a good employee work/life balance helps improve employee engagement when the usual financial tools are unavailable.”

This goes along with the fact that according to a survey by Expedia, the average American worker earned 14 vacation days this year but will only take 12 of them. Though two days doesn’t sound like a lot when you add it all up but altogether, Americans are giving up 226 million unused vacation days this year. Considering that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average full-time worker earns $39,416 a year — which comes out to $34.3 billion worth of time.



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    • Elaine

      We are based in the Uk and our statutory days are often forced on us- so you cant get paid them or have them ‘roll over’ – so you find December involves a lot of paid vacation!

      The problem with this is often you have no funds and you have nothing to do! It would be an idea for employers to reward the hardworking employees with a paid, or subsidised day off of activities. We did some research on these lost days and we are planning on getting some days out with a company ( called if anyone reading form the Uk is bothered )- who arrnage team building type days out that you ‘have ‘ to take.

      so they day off is kind of forced – but you do get to do something for free that also ticks off those ‘team building boxes’.

      Might be an idea for the USA too

      elaine :)

    • Kyle

      Well the Europeans tend to be more entitlement-minded than the U.S. with regards to these types of things. Most Americans work a nine-to-five and have weekends off however, so I do not think it is as bad as it sounds. Americans who choose to work jobs requiring long hours and even weekends here and there, they tend to be those seeking to rise to the top of their profession (the “1%” as some would call them). In some European countries, this type of effort is illegal.

    • Brian of Nazareth

      I don’t know where you got these numbers from, but you’re wrong. Argentina does indeed have the most paid holidays (at 19), but no country has more than Argentina. Not ANY of those countries mentioned before Argentina. Guys, please do a little research ( is a good place to start) and next time you just might get your facts straight!