A new study taken from two leadership consultants shows that European executives are more productive than American executives because they take more vacations per year.
The study came about after Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, the founding executives of leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman, were having trouble coordinating a summer meeting with an Amsterdam-based company due to the fact that all of their important executives were constantly on vacation.
They wanted to know how any company could operate effectively with numerous executives on paid leave. They asked the Amsterdam-based company’s’ VP of human resources how their business was able to operate so fluently. He responded:
“I am confident that because of the rest and break from work that our European executives get more accomplished in their working days than those in the U.S. who burn themselves out.”
The two took the advice with a grain of salt, but they were also curious to see if he was on to something. Do executives actually work more efficiently when they have more time off for vacation each year?
Zenger and Folkman decided that they would conduct a study focusing on two groups, a control group — U.S. executives — and a test group — European executives.
The data was taken from a group of 2,310 respondents from 20 different countries with the most paid vacation days per year. Australia allotted an average of 28 paid vacation days a year per employee, while Sweden and Brazil allotted 41 days a year; the United States allotted an average of 10 paid vacation days a year.
The study was designed to gauge how different amounts of vacation times might affect attitudes toward productivity. Zenger and Folkman required the different groups of respondents to complete an assessment that determined whether they preferred working at a fast pace or a slow pace. Zenger and Folkman were testing for three differences in the group: speed, focus quality and impatience.
The results that came back from the assessment were interesting. The two businessmen found out that leaders in countries with more paid vacation tested higher in all three categories.
When the duo asked the groups if they felt “overwhelmed with too much to do” or whether they “had things under control,” the European group was more likely to answer in the affirmative than the U.S. group. While the European executive group worked faster, focused longer, and had more impatience for non-work related issues, they also seemed to be more stressed.
Zenger and Folkman wrote in Harvard Business Review:
“Taken together, these results should reassure managers who worry about the possible deleterious effects of longer vacations. In fact, having more vacation time seems to help employees better understand the importance of being impatient for results and getting as much done as possible.
“ […] It appears from this data that employees in countries that take more vacation do have a strong desire to get a lot done as well as a tendency to move faster. So while our particular study did not find that having more vacation reduced stress, we do see evidence that it results in greater productivity at work all the same. In other words, it’s not that taking a break will refresh your brain and let you get more done; it’s that simply spending less time at your desk forces you to waste less time.”
So the results were clear: having more time off for vacation creates a better understanding of the importance of working at faster speeds, fosters higher degrees of focus at work, and increases impatience with non-work-related issues — all because there is, ironically, less time to work.