Vacations and Canada’s Work Ethic

Courtesy of Vinay Shivakumar and Flickr's Creative Commons

Congratulations, Canada! Your people take fewer holidays than folks in any other nation on Earth. Even China. That’s right, we here in the Great White North work more hours than people in a country that is in possession of a socio-political ideology that fuses hyper-capitalism and neo-communism.

Wow. Just writing that paragraph made me tired. I need a vacation.

Recently in up-and-coming “newspaper” the The Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson wrote a piece called “We work hard, they enjoy life” – the columnist not only showcases how far behind Canadians are from the global average of vacation days (which is just under 30), but Ibbitson also outlines that, according to a 2010 Ipsos/Reuters poll, less than 60% of Canadians actually make full use of our paltry number of vacation days. A study by the human capital consulting firm Mercer found that, on average, Canadian employers offer a meager minimum of 10 vacation days and just nine statutory holidays. China offers up two more holidays, the Americans are given about 15 days of vacation, and nearly 90% of the French use up all of their 40 days of vacation per year.


This got me thinking about productivity. There are quite literally millions of opinions and thousands of articles and blog posts on the subject and, as a hopefully productive leader of Canada’s experiential learning community, I felt it was important to explore this topic further.

Courtesy of Woodleywonderworks and Flickr's Creative Commons

I love the rumour/fact that the French are in possession of the most productive economy on the planet. The argument that the French get the most done while spending the least amount of time at work was recently put forward by Business Insider‘s John Carney and Vincent Fernando. The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC, however, counter with some solid arguments about American productivity – not only do Americans spend more time at work, but they also produce more wealth-per-person than anywhere else.


Whether true productivity comes from France or America it is pretty darn clear that it does not come from Canada. In fact, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada has been on a bit of a productivity slide lately. This idea has been more recently affirmed by the The Star. We collectively contribute to billions of dollars in lost productivity each year because of illness (coming to work when we’re sick and/or hurting ourselves by working too much), mental health (burning out from the stress of what we do for a living), and not being able to clone Kurt Heinrich.

The logic of Spock is not needed to determine that our vacation days – or lack thereof – have something to do with our could-be-a-heckuvalot-better levels of productivity.

On my own I can’t change Canada’s number of statutory holidays. Only you writing to the most powerful man in the country, Steve Nash, can begin to solve this problem. What I can offer are some peer-reviewed and experientially proven strategies for making people happy. Because happy workers are productive workers. Here are some options to explore.

Let the record show that any idea must jive with the values, mission and service standards of the company (e.g. if your clients are on site at nine o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night for seven days a week then it doesn’t make sense to arrive at eleven o’clock in the morning and work until six o’clock, right?) and the fairness of any decision should apply across all units. And, let’s face it, ideas like these are way more applicable for nimble organizations, as the scalability of “dogs in the office” at, say, the University of British Columbia is pretty darn unrealistic and, if poorly rolled out, could quite possibly result in over 12,000 canines on campus at the same time. Such a thing could take the adorableness of puppies at work down a few notches.

So there it is. Simple ideas can make people happy. And if people are happy we’ll be more productive. And if we’re more productive then maybe – just maybe – Canada will earn one or two more vacation days!

8 thoughts on “Vacations and Canada’s Work Ethic

  1. Nice post! I have recently been complaining that U.S. employers don’t seem to offer much vacation time. One of my friends gets 5 days a year and no real statutory holidays. I get 15 days instead of UBC’s 20… but perhaps I get more stats? Do you have any idea how many we have a year in Canada?

  2. In Canada we have a very meager 9 stat holidays per year. I bet the Americans have more.

    The findings in this post were pretty shocking, to be honest.

    Thanks for the comment, Lindsay!

  3. It’s astounding that Canada doesn’t take care of it’s workforce better. I’ve been in Australia 3 weeks so far. When told I get 4 weeks vacation, plus stat holidays, plus 1 additional week in lieu of the times we have to work on weekends during the season (due to home games), I literally wondered how I’d actually use it all. If you do the math, it works out to something like a day off every week and a half.

    A friend of mine back home owned an accounting firm in Alberta. They changed their hours so that everyone worked an extra half-hour on Monday-Thursday and a shortened lunch and they all get Friday off. He said productivity shot through the roof.

    Man, people have it backwards sometimes.

  4. John,

    Good article. I think one of the biggest challenges isn’t necessarily the number of days off provided by an employer but the less quantifiable “expectations” in the workplace. For many people, taking time off with vacation or leaving at 5 pm (as opposed to 7 pm) is tricky if the boss and other colleagues are also staying late. Few people who are competing for a raise or promotion are going to head home early. I guess part of the challenge is that many people – especially the ambitious ones and many managers and bosses – view working hard and long as the same thing.

    In my experience, this is not always the case – but sometimes it is.

    Until this perception is changed I don’t think much in terms of Canadian “vacations” will change.


  5. You forgot “working smart” – I highly recommend this. Working hard and/or long doesn’t make for effectiveness on its/their own.

    But you already knew this.

    Tell me about the French, Kurt. What do you think?!

  6. Yo nee d to erik hatder and.stop thna allof you on thsi complainimg. I work harder and tha’ts all you nede to know.

    - PETE

  7. Guess you guys dont know the employees i work with in canada. show up at 9 get off at 4 tu-th… friday they have dr apts at 2 that last the entire day and it cant be a pto day because of your socialized healthcare, every time you ask them to do something they are on “break”, half @$$ their job and make other complete. I am sick of this . Had to install monitoring software to prove 8 hours of gaming and watching porn on 20 out of 30 employees. Guess its just the canadian way when you have a US backed company. I couldnt get a way with half the crap

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