UK: Who Takes The Most Holidays?

Last Updated: 12 August 2015
Article by Ian Stewart

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

I suspect many recipients of today's briefing will respond with an automatic 'out of office' reply. August is traditionally the month when many British pack their bags and take a break.

In the spirit of the season, this week's briefing is on holidays.

For most of us, summer holidays mean trips abroad as foreign travel has become much more ubiquitous. Technological advances, deregulation and fierce competition mean that air travel has become significantly cheaper since the 1970s, making travelling abroad a much more common activity. In the United States, the cost of flying fell 50% between 1978 and 2011.

With travel getting cheaper, the number of people taking trips abroad almost doubled in the UK through the 1980s, and has grown strongly since (except for a temporary dip following the financial crisis). The number of annual trips taken abroad by Brits has more than tripled between 1980 and 2014 to 38.5 million foreign holidays.

Spain is by far the most popular British holiday destination, with an astonishing 11 million holiday visits to the country in 2014, almost twice as popular as the second most visited destination, France. The next most popular holiday destination is the United States, followed by Portugal. Luxembourg and Nigeria were the least visited international destinations, where data is available.

The 'typical' Brit will take a holiday between July and September, most likely to Spain and will spend Ł520 over the course of their visit. But how many days could we expend on holidays and how does that compare with the rest of the world?

European socialised economies provide the most holidays to employees. The Austrians and the Maltese top the league table in terms of annual leave, with a total of 38 days off work (25 statutory days leave plus 13 public holidays for Austria and 24 plus 14 for Malta), followed by Greece (37), and then the UK, France, Spain and Sweden (all 36).

Canadians take the fewest days off annually, with just 19 days leave typically. The Philippines, China, Mexico, Ecuador, Thailand and the United States lie at the bottom end of the table. The US is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its employees any paid vacation, although there are 10 public holidays and employees tend to take around 15 days off a year.

Taking a greater number of holidays doesn't necessarily translate to weaker productivity though. Interestingly, many of the countries at the top of the holiday league table have strong productivity.

How much holiday a country awards its workers reflects a number of factors. Cultural issues are clearly very important. In Colombia there are 18 public holidays each year - the highest of any country - and 12 of these are Catholic holidays. In India's secular multi-ethnic society, there are 16 public holidays – most of which are allocated for religious and regional festivals.

Economic factors also play a part. The fact that the US has no statutory days of holiday reflects the fact that the American economy is highly deregulated and flexible. American workers therefore have a different outlook to their counterparts in more socialised and 'employee-friendly' Europe, where holidays are often considered sacrosanct.

In the UK, it seems that many workers have a more uneasy relationship with their, fairly generous, holiday entitlement. A recent YouGov survey showed that almost a third of British workers did not take their full holiday entitlement in 2014. Many report heavy workloads, schedule clashes and anxiety about taking time off work as reasons for staying at work.

It seems that many of us feel over-worked. This is interesting as OECD data shows that workers in the UK – as in other developed countries – are working fewer hours than ever before. The average British worker worked 1,677 hours over the course of the year in 2014. In 1970, the average worker put in 1,943 hours of work. That's the equivalent of seven and a half weeks more work.

Workers today tend to be far more productive and therefore don't need to work as many hours as they used to in performing the same role.

Technology has clearly played a big part in making people more productive. But it might also be part of the reason why workers don't necessarily feel that they are working fewer hours. Having constant access to work and colleagues, through mobile phones and laptops, may mean that we are now much closer to work, even when we are at home or abroad. (This may be a particularly salient point for those of you reading this on a mobile device on the way to work, or worse, while on holiday.)

Paradoxically, despite the fact we take more trips abroad and work fewer hours, we feel more hard-worked than previously. It may be that our time off isn't quite what it used to be.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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