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Americans living in Europe on how easy it is to take PTO: ‘I am still getting used to 30 days of vacation’

The U.S. is notorious for its abysmal stance on providing paid time off to workers.

It’s the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t have federal laws requiring paid leave for vacations or sick time, and as a result, many rely on policies that vary by employer. When left up to businesses, the average American worker gets just 11 days of paid vacation in their first year at a company, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That bumps up to 15 days after five years of service, but pales in comparison to what’s legally mandated in many other countries around the world.

In a culture that prizes productivity, even workers who do get vacation days often leave them on the table. But for some people, the chance to move abroad, particularly to Europe, comes with a whole new outlook on taking paid time off from work.

Krys Elexandra, 26, lived in Arizona and moved to Germany 18 months ago to explore Europe and because of her strong interest in German culture. She works in supervisory administration and financial guidance.

Elexandra is entitled to 30 paid days off in Germany and was surprised to find it’s “extremely easy” to request time off.

Her longest vacation was a three-week stint to South Korea, and as it turns out, the most helpful thing she did at work to prepare was to provide transparency to the rest of her team, she tells CNBC Make It.

“Many times, when we take vacation in the United States, it’s something that we consider private,” she says. “In Germany, I was very vocal on where I was going and for how long so if anyone had any questions or was concerned about my absence, they knew why I would not be available for an extended amount of time.”

By the time she returned, she found “easing back into work was fairly easy. Almost all of the employees I work with were notified so my workload was paused until I returned.”

Planning ahead for weeks off at a time

Kimberly Sorce, 32, grew up in New Jersey but moved to Malmo, Sweden, in May 2022 to be with her fiancé who grew up there. She works as a business development representative for a tech company and is “still getting used to” 30 days of paid vacation each year. (Swedes are guaranteed 25 paid vacation days by law.)

Requesting time off is easy and pretty much always approved immediately — the only sticking point is planning in advance since it’s expected that people take off several weeks at a time. “We had to put in our requests for our summer vacation weeks in April,” Sorce says.

She says her European coworkers and clients have a “general understanding that in the summertime, business will be slower and then pick back up in the autumn.” During the summer, she says, “more than half of the email replies I receive are auto-replies stating that the person is on vacation until mid-July or August.”

Beyond that, the extent of Sorce’s pre-vacation work prep is straightforward: “Just tell your co-workers when you will be on vacation so they know they aren’t going to see you for a few weeks.” Then, “set an auto-reply for your inbox and you’ll be good to go.”

Unplugging from work

Some 54% of U.S. professionals say they still work on vacation or find it difficult to unplug on PTO, according to a 2022 Glassdoor report.

But for Elexandra, disconnecting from work while away is baked into the culture. “My supervisor actually refuses to answer any questions I have regarding work while I’m on vacation,” she says. “It’s considered very rude to ask employees about work while they are off.”

It’s helpful that Elexandra can view her PTO as a guarantee she’s entitled to, rather than a perk she has to prove herself worthy of.

Whereas, in the U.S., she’d often feel guilty for taking time off and like she had to feign excitement for returning to work, “in Germany, we all know that everyone has the right to a certain amount of days,” so people are more excited to plan their vacations and can actually return to work rested.

Sorce never feels compelled to bring her work phone or laptop with her when she travels. Overall, she considers work-life balance in Sweden “incomparable.”

“In America, we glamorize the ‘hustle’ and working overtime, and being the hardest worker, and it’s praised in the workplace and rewarded,” Sorce says. “Here, that’s just not a thing. No one wants to work overtime because they would rather make a bit less money but enjoy their free time.”

Source: CNBC