Why the Japanese Could Soon Be Required By Law to Take Vacations

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In an effort to improve the quality of life of its citizens, the Japanese government is considering passing a law that would require its workers to take mandatory vacation time.

According to Slate, the law, currently under consideration by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration, would require workers to take at least five days of paid vacation time each year.

Employees already have 10 guaranteed paid vacation days each year, and tend to be offered much more than that by their employers — but few take advantage of the vacation time they have. Japanese workers “typically use less than half their annual leave,” one labor ministry survey found. When the Japanese are required to use their vacation days for sick time, this information becomes even more jarring.

The fact that the Japanese refuse to use their allotted vacation days is indicative of the country’s pervasive workaholic culture. Working long hours has been recognized as a legitimate cause in wrongful death lawsuits. In fact, 22% of Japanese employees work 49 hours or more each week. There’s even a word in Japanese, karoshi, to describe working one’s self into the grave.

It might seem like the Japanese are overworking themselves — but Americans don’t fare much better when it comes to their vacations, studies show. The U.S. is second among developed nations (after Japan, of course) when it comes to not using one’s vacation time, according to Time. Unlike Japan, and every other industrialized country in the world, the U.S. has no laws guaranteeing a minimum amount of paid vacation time for its workers.

Despite this, more Americans are making a point to get out of the office for at least a few days each year. Approximately three million more Americans embarked on a camping excursion in 2012 than they did in 2010, spending some much-needed time in the outdoors rather than in front of a computer screen.

But there might still be a few things American legislators can learn from Japan’s efforts to give their workers a break. Taking more paid vacation time is linked to better performance reviews and boosted worker productivity — meaning it’s a win-win for both employers and the people who work for them.

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