Never Waste Another Vacation Day

February 17, 2016 | Christophe Fauconnier
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A French solution to an American Problem:

In Anglo-Saxon countries, like the UK and USA, people feel uncomfortable using their holidays to the full. Even if a company gives you 25 vacation days a year, which is already rare in the USA, many of them go unused because of peer pressure.

This story that I found on The Workplace Stack Exchange demonstrates this well:

“I used roughly 15 of the 25 [days] I have but a few people (both above, below and at the same level as me) frown and made comments that “I’m always on vacation”. Those people never took a vacation day that I know of. There is, on paper, a clearly defined chain of command and my manager never complained or made comments, and always approved them. However in practice the chain of command is very blurry and everyone is encouraged to be an unofficial “manager” — usually the people who do the most work and have the most experience in a project call the shot regardless of rank and going head to head with the people above you if you think they are doing a mistake is common and appreciated. So, it’s kind of a “free for all”. This was to explain that it’s completely normal in this company culture for people who are not my manager or even below me to make comments about my vacation days.

I can either not use them and effectively work for free, or take them and deal with my colleagues complaining that “I’m always on vacation”. Unused days are not paid and if not used they become wasted and you cannot use them the next year. When you leave the company, you are not paid the unused vacation days. I’m not sure if this kind of attitude is normal or not, and am wondering what I should do. Perhaps this is normal behavior in the United States to have vacation days and not use them?

For a French person, the dilemma illustrated above is unimaginable. The French do some things so brilliantly well. Wine. Cheese. Fashion. And now this, a better way to make use of your well earned vacation days. In France, vacation is a right, not just a granted privilege. They work 35 hour weeks, take seven weeks of paid holidays per year and take an hour for lunch. Surprisingly, they are the least unionized and most productive among modern countries. They are certainly not the most civil and sensitive, and service can be rude but when it comes to solidarity, they are super inventive and they can teach us a thing or two about how to thrive and better our world with contributive designs.

Putting your hard-earned vacation days to good use

Christophe Germain’s co-workers gave up a total of 170 vacation days so that he could care for his sick son. It’s extraordinarily generous and we can only guess at a) how moved the family must have been and b) the difference it made. Christophe’s company enabled his colleagues to dare to care with a structural contributive design solution that went on to inspire a French law. Trust the French to put this into a law.

As of May 9th 2014, any individual in salaried employment can give, anonymously, any of their outstanding holiday entitlement to a colleague whose child is gravely ill or handicapped. The practice allows the parent of a child under the age of 20 and in their care, who is gravely ill, handicapped or has been victim of a serious accident, to be at their side, without losing any of their salary during their absence. The absent employee’s own salary can be maintained using these donated days, regardless of the salary of the donor.

Perhaps the Americans have too much guilt and/or social pressures to use up their vacation? If so, why not give some outstanding days to a colleague in need? This will certainly drive up your desire to gain acceptance from your colleagues and you will feel a lot better about it.

What do you think? Did the French get it right on this occasion and is this even a possibility in the culture or community that you operate in?

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Christophe Fauconnier

As a white South African growing up under the Apartheid regime, Christophe was often viewed as a little troublemaker. He could never stop challenging narrow-mindedness and scarcity thinking, which lead to problems with several power institutions.  

Christophe is co-author of several books like the Naked Consumer Today, Creating Value People to People, Activists Dare to Care and Beyond the Powergirl. He has a masters degree in both Psychology and Marketing and he is a serial entrepreneur. Currently, he is C.E.O of the Innate Motion Group and a board member of African Drive, in/PACT and B Corp Europe.

Bringing human sense to business in a world that applies too much business sense to humans is what he and the folks at Innate Motion do best and Christophe has done this with the people who lead some of the best brands and companies in the world.