It's Labor Day weekend this weekend. What are you planning to do?
Hopefully the answer is kick back, enjoy the waning days of summer and your loved ones, and maybe light up the old barbecue. But if America's vacation statistics are anything to go by, a lot of you will probably end up sneaking off to send a few emails, make a couple of calls, or otherwise squeeze in some work.
Notoriously vacation-starved American workers average just 10 days off in the entire year, and collectively leave hundreds of millions of unused vacation days on the table each year. And remote work hasn't helped: Working hours have actually lengthened since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, over in Europe, the 35-year-old prime minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, just took a four-week-long summer holiday in which she saw friends, took walks, and visited amusement parks with her three-year-old daughter, Bloomberg reports.
If she can do it, so can you.
That's yet another reminder of just how much better at taking vacations Europeans are than Americans. Over here on my side of the Atlantic, taking several weeks off in the summer is a matter of routine and, for better or for worse, no one expects much of anything of consequence to get done in August (which admittedly can be a big problem when your plumbing starts leaking mid-summer).
But while daydreaming of vacationing like the French can be a pleasant enough distraction, Marin insists there's a larger lesson to take from her leisurely summer schedule, more than a reminder that it's possible to sometimes put pleasure and humanity over careerism and productivity.
Marin tells Bloomberg her long break didn't mean nothing was getting done at the top of Finland's government for an entire month. "Being able to take four weeks off shows that we have a government that operates collectively. The government wasn't on holiday. We've arranged deputies for all ministers, including the prime minister," she explained.
The Finnish government, in other words, has been organized with workers' need to adequately rest and recharge in mind. Slack has intentionally been built into the system, and no one person is indispensable. And things keep ticking along even when the boss is out riding a carousel with her kid. This shows that vacation starvation is a choice, not an inevitability, and one with nasty consequences.
The most resilient way to run an organization is to ensure that no one person is essential for its daily functioning. And as much as American strivers worry they must remain indispensable to get ahead, research shows again and again that too little time off leads to increased risk for depression and burnout, and reduced overall productivity. Statistically speaking, skipping vacation even harms your chance of getting a promotion or a raise.
Marin's experience proves structuring things to give workers a healthy amount of time off isn't an impossible ideal. It takes vision to value leisure--and some planning, sure--but if the prime minister of a small European country can manage a month off, then surely nearly any entrepreneur or employee should be able to manage the occasional long weekend away fully unplugged.
So maybe use this one as a starting point to step away, and start thinking about how your team or company can move a European-style vacation policy from dream to reality.