I just returned from my first vacation since arriving in Australia 8 months ago for work. My husband and I, along with our two young children, took two weeks off to visit Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef while my parents visited us from America. As I reflect upon this vacation, my previous suspicion that Americans have a very different view of vacation than Australians has validated. The 6 reasons below paint a picture of the very different attitudes I've witnessed about work and play of the people and employers in Australia compared to America.
1. Full-time employees get 4 weeks of paid vacation.
Australians don't get 4 weeks after they've worked at a job for a few years. They get 4 weeks from the very first year of permanent employment. In contrast, Americans typically get 2 weeks, but some American employees don't get any paid vacation. Because they have more paid leave, Australians will often take 2-4 weeks off at one time which means that they have more flexibility than Americans to become global travelers. I'm astonished at how many Australians have been to New Zealand, Bali, Hawaii, the United States, Europe, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, the Cook Islands, etc. Even more incredible is the number of young Australians in their early twenties who have traveled extensively. I met a young cashier at Target the other day who has been to America twice and is currently planning her third trip. People at the YMCA where I work are always going somewhere exotic, just like Bec and Alana below.
2. Employees are not expected to touch their email or phone while on vacation.
Vacation is seen their time. Others will pick up the slack while a colleague is away, or it will just get addressed upon return. Employees who are on vacation don't check their work email while they are on the beach in the South of France or sitting in a gondola in Italy. They completely sign off. While I was on vacation for these 2 weeks, I forgot all about work and it was such a freeing, restorative time for me. In America, I've been made to feel guilty for taking my vacation. I know other Americans who don't take their time off because they know it will put them too far behind or put a potential promotion in jeopardy.
3. Managers tell employees to schedule their vacation because it's good for them.
I don't know about you, but I have never had a boss in the States encourage me to schedule time off. I may have negotiated time off as part of my work package, but it was still looked at as a necessary evil from the employer's point of view. A general American sentiment seems to be "It doesn't matter if it's good for the employee, it's bad for business!" A general Australian sentiment is "What's good for the employee is good for business." The attitude starts at the top of an organization. My manager's manager told him he should schedule some more time away, and manager demonstrated the same attitude towards me. In fact, I can't find much evidence that even encourages working overtime in Australia. The 'work/life balance' concept is commonly referred to as an encouragement for employees to go home and spend time with their families.
4. Australians get paid extra while on vacation.
I'm still not clear why, but after talking to a variety of Australians and my human resources department, they confirmed that employees get paid at a higher rate while on annual leave. It feels a little like Australia is a kind 'father' giving his kids a little extra cash for their big date so they can be guaranteed a good time. (I'm sure it has nothing to do with the extremely high tax rates here.)
5. After a number of years in a certain position, Australians qualify for long-service leave.
The number of years may vary, but generally 6-10 years will earn an employee extended leave. Long service leave means employees are rewarded with a super long vacation AT FULL PAY for staying with a particular company. It is typically for 3 months at full pay or 6 months at half pay. The job is guaranteed to be there upon return. Australians use this time to tour the world. They don't just go to London for a week like Americans might do. They go to London, Paris, Rome, and Venice. They don't just go to LA or New York for a week. They TOUR the United States and go to more places than most Americans have been. Granted, they typically hit the big tourist spots and skip my home state of Missouri, but at least they have enough experience with America to know Missouri is somewhere in the middle. They use their long service leave to get married and go on two-month honeymoons, or they use it to start a business...all while getting paid. Most employers in the States would laugh someone out of the country if they asked for this perk. Perhaps pastors or university professors can get away with an occasional sabbatical, but it is not the norm for the typical employee. When I was 21, my college roommate and I backpacked through Europe for a month. We didn't know anyone else who was doing that at the time and 20 years later, I still don't run into many mainstream Americans who have had that kind of experience. In Australia, it's a common 'thing' for people to do. They want to travel the world before they settle down and start a family. This requires enough vacation time from work and enough money to finance the travel. Australians appear to have plenty of both.
6. Australian parents don't have to save up vacation time to stay home with their newborns.
Australians typically receive 3 months of maternity leave at full pay or 6 months at half pay. They can even take up to a year off and their job will be waiting for them when they come back. I get looks of disbelief when I tell friends in Australia that the standard maternity leave in the United States is 6 weeks, and that is only for the mother, and it may or may not be paid. They can't believe that daycare centers would actually take infants that small in full-time care or that parents would feel comfortable with it. All evidence points to Australians placing more value on a longer mother/child bonding period as well as a father/child bonding period...enough to finance it. They also don't circumcise their baby boys, but let's save that discussion for another blog post.
Is there something to learn from the Australians? Although, some American employers give their employees 4 weeks of vacation and a few give even more, paid time off, it certainly isn't the law as it is in Australia. Whether it should be law in America is debatable, but I think there is room to put more value on time away from work. Australian workers seem happier and more relaxed to me than their American counterparts. I encourage any American reading this to fight for your right to take time away from work. Vacation provides perspective, offers renewal, triggers creativity, and expands our horizons. Traveling puts our own cultures into clearer focus and teaches us that there are other ways of doing things. We will not only be better employees, but happier and more fulfilled version of ourselves. If you are an employer, consider the long term benefits of implementing more vacation time or even long service leave for your team. What's good for the employee might just be good for business, too.
Well done Australia. Travel on America. ~ Stevyn
My name is Stevyn. I am a wife, mother, and exercise physiologist with one foot in the world of travel and one foot in the world of fitness. Learn more about me here.
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