Emerging after three years as a full-time staffer in the United States for a US media company, with 10 paid holiday days a year, I have thoroughly enjoyed the break from work dictated by my family's move back to New Zealand in July.

Working for my US employer on a freelance basis and for other New Zealand media, I am appreciating the flexibility I have to not work every hour or every day of the working week. Last year, because of the day Christmas fell on, I even had to apply for a holiday on Boxing Day though the company gave that to us as a company holiday in the end.

What I had to get used to was that 10 days' holiday was the norm in the US..

The reality of this was, if you took a summer holiday in June or July — we tended to take the full 10 days — then that was me done for the rest of the year. After that I was limping along from public holiday to public holiday granted to us at the company's discretion. This included Memorial Day (the last Monday of May), Independence Day on July 4, Labor Day (Monday, September 3 this year), then Thanksgiving, which falls this Friday and Christmas Day. Boy, did I look forward to Thanksgiving each year even though, as non-Americans, we never went to town, just had a welcome lie-in and a decent meal on the day.


My beloved Easter holiday, however, was an absolute non-event in the US and Christmas was just Christmas Day.

It seems that four in 10 Americans don't take their full paid holidays, according to Oxford Economics.

And company managers can be the worst at taking holidays, according to the business literature out there, something I have witnessed.

I ran this trend past US-based management consultant John Beeson, author of The Unwritten Rules: The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level.

He told me that Americans are not avoiding taking time off because they have too much work to do. Rather, their concern is about not keeping up and falling behind in a culture that places a strong value on getting ahead.

The two-week holiday just does not happen for many fast-risers, he says.

But this comes with its downsides.

"It can take a toll not only on mental health but also a manager's perspective and creativity," said Beeson.


Talent retention expert Kim Seeling Smith, an American who worked in New Zealand as a senior recruiter and now runs her own business in Australia, points to a McKinsey report that says 70 per cent of job growth comes from more heuristic work. For people to be more innovative and strategic, the brain requires rest from time to time, she says.

As work tasks becomes more automated the people who are valued in the workforce will be those who have more right brain skills, says Seeling Smith.

According to the CEO and founder of Ignite Global, she first came to New Zealand on a precious two-week holiday in the early 2000s. The only way she and her then boyfriend could get their employers to agree to a two-week holiday was to say it was for their honeymoon.

Two weeks away from work was a good enough excuse to move to New Zealand.

Seeling Smith, who still works with some US clients, says you are discouraged from taking even a week off in US firms and that most Americans will instead take a series of long weekends. She tells me it is very common for Kiwis who go to the US to find it a bit much.

I ask if having decent holidays affects our productivity.

"I don't think that it impacts productivity," says Seeling Smith. "You just find ways to work around it. I have run my business for nine and a half years and I know that my business is as successful as my counterparts in the US."

So I'll take that as a challenge. For the next year, I will keep track of my earnings and the pace of my creative ideas for work and stories and see if I am as productive as I was in the US.

However it goes, I say roll on the Christmas break. Is that a bad thing?