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Ventura County Perspective

America's Work Ethic Needs a Vacation

September 24, 2000|EDMONDE HADDAD | Edmonde Haddad of Port Hueneme is the former president of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council

The so-called "work ethic" is vastly overrated in America.

Work attitudes such as those expressed in The Times article "FDR's Idea Engendered Work Ethic," Sept. 5, are fine for drawing historical perspective but just awful when relating to what passes for contemporary life in the United States. One member of the Civilian Conservation Corps was quoted as proudly extolling the fact that he worked for 25 years and took only two or three sick days. He boasted that his job was "number one, even more important than my family."

Really?

Americans are the most overworked people in the industrialized world. The average vacation is still only two weeks while other, more advanced countries set minimum vacation days by law. According to the Utne Reader, Spain and France mandate 30 days vacation a year; Ireland insists on 28; Japan and Portugal 25 and so on down the line. Not only do Swedes get five weeks off each year by law, they get an additional two weeks off at Christmas.

The United States? No legally mandated vacation time period.

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Basically, Europeans work to live while more and more Americans live to work. This goes back to the 1930s, when Americans decided they'd rather make more money than have more free time.

Just look at the weary faces of people locked bumper to bumper on our nation's freeways and roads. Day after day, they commute as long as two hours each way to and from work. Such streets as Victoria Avenue in Ventura County are more and more impacted as people buy up homes farther and farther from where they work. Kids, dumped off at day-care early in the morning, at night face dog-tired parents who can barely get dinner on the table.

It is a sad fact of life that most Americans identify themselves by what they do for a living rather than who they are as people.

There are good things happening, however. Some companies do provide at least four weeks of vacation a year, paid maternity and other family leave and child day-care for employees. Upper-level management for years has enjoyed monthlong vacations negotiated into employment contracts.

Colleges, universities, most churches and other nonprofit organizations encourage their principals to take a sabbatical every so often. The idea of a three- or four-month sabbatical every few years is increasingly popular at many of the nation's top law firms.

What's the use of working so hard if you're too exhausted to enjoy your life?

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A federal law ensuring a decent vacation would do much to help business. Such a policy makes a company more attractive to employees; indeed, it builds pride and increases productivity.

This is a new century. If the United States is to survive and prosper, it has to adopt a more enlightened attitude toward work. Today, it's just not all it's cracked up to be.

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