08 July 2019

Holidays are Holy in Europe

I had a rather very positive experience with the way holidays are viewed in the European workplace. Okay, perhaps it's not valid to generalise, but at least in my work environment, holidays are holy. And if you're on holiday, you're expected to ignore the rest of the people in the office. On top of that, if you are scheduled to be on holiday, yet there's so much work that it's hard to turn off your own brain, you would have colleagues and even your boss would rally and take over such that you'll feel comfortable letting go for a while. At least that's how it feels like for my team.

See, I had a two-week holiday a few weeks ago. It was also a rather stressful period, being in a hot phase of a project that I was involved in. I already knew months in advance that I was going to be out of town during this period, and it was unavoidable, given that it was not only my own schedule that was being planned. So I arranged what I thought were sufficient covers during my absence. However, for some reason, my covers had to back out and didn't follow through, forcing me to reach out and ask for help.

In the end, help arrived, and people, most importantly, superiors, like my boss, and my boss's boss (a VP) telling me that I should turn my phone off and not think about work. My boss even became the cover for some operational tasks. The end scenario was definitely something that I didn't imagine possible. I keep on contrasting this to feedback I get from some old friends in the Philippines and the USA, who tell me things like them not being able to turn their phones off because they're in a management position, or because they're too busy.

I think this is where European work values differ. Americans for example don't take their vacation days the way Europeans do. Heck, here we even penalise people when vacation days are not taken, or if they work on the weekends. If you deliver stunning results but do so by working during holidays or during the weekends, then we won't recognise that as outstanding work. We definitely won't say you're a stellar employer, because if we do so, that means we want everyone to be workaholics. So that's actually setting a wrong example, and not the role model we want for the rest.


  1. I have no idea how North America survive with so little vacation time and the "a holiday is a long weekend" culture. I tried it when I worked in various office environment but I hated it. I can't go anywhere for three days or even a week (keeping in mind the size of North America, unlike Europe). I work a lot but I don't feel guilty when I take time off, weeks at the time.

    1. Zhu,

      I think there's a fundamental difference between North American and European mindsets to work-life balance. In North America, there isn't work-life balance at all, as if everything is about work. Just look at their vacation policies!