If there is one thing I’ve learned after living in France for three years, it’s that family time comes first. Vacation time is essential to French life. Most shops close for the day at 7PM, with one to two hour lunch breaks, and personal time off to tend to sick children and family is sacred. The only people in America I knew who had the ability to do things close to this French way were entrepreneurs and small business owners. It seems that corporate big wigs are slowly coming out of the closet to say that they choose this way of living, too.
It was refreshing to see working mother and Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, come out on a Makers.com video and say that she leaves work to be with her family, “I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids.”
Sandberg admits this was not something she preached or bragged about, “Now, I certainly wouldn’t lie but I wasn’t going around giving speeches on it. I was showing everyone I worked for that I worked just as hard. I was getting up earlier to make sure they saw my emails at 5:30, staying up later to make sure they saw my emails late. But now I’m much more confident in where I am and so I’m able to say, “Hey! I am leaving work at 5:30.” And I say it very publicly, both internally and externally,”
Obviously, not everyone is able to walk out of work at 5:30PM sharp, but it’s important to remember how obsessed with working Americans really are. A 2011 CNNMoney article reports that Americans, who average 14 vacation days per year, only take 12 of those days, effectively giving up 226 million unused vacation days.
With a huge economic recession, Americans are also afraid of losing what Stuart Rubinstein, managing director at TD Ameritrade, says is “facetime in the office,” because “They worry that being out of the office might make them next on the list.”
This insecurity to be laid off or fired for what appears to be a lack of commitment to their jobs is a contributing factor for what drives Americans into work and into long hours. Of course, there are other factors such as a stagnant wage rate and increasing commodities, education, and health prices makes working long hours to make a decent style of living a way of life.
When it comes to my own household, I have the opportunity to select my vacation days and work hours thanks to the nature of my business. My French husband, who gets over 7 weeks paid vacation each year, has a tough time using all of his days due to what he calls his, “American work mentality”. Trust me, I’m still working on him to get home before 6:30 everyday!