Fretting over how “Americans give back 438 million vacation days a year” when they could be “sitting on a beach,” ABC anchor Charles Gibson concluded the Presidents’ Day World News by channeling envy of European socialist rules as he complained that “America is the only major country in the world that has no government-mandated time off.” Citing how “psychologists say people are better workers, less stressed, if they take their time,” he helpfully suggested “you might consider moving to France. There, the government requires 31 vacation days plus holidays.” No mention, of course, of how that (plus a 35-hour work week) hurts French productivity and job creation, to say nothing of requiring significant immigration.
The anchor of the newscast on the network owned by Disney showed a picture of smiling vacationers with Mickey Mouse before he ended by noting: “And someone asked me today, ‘Why are you making a big deal of this? You're at work today.’ Good point.”
Yearning for European time-off mandates is nothing new for the networks, particularly NBC’s Today show. A few examples I quickly found in the MRC’s archive, and these don’t include the more common calls to follow Europe’s lead in mandating paid maternity and family leave:
CNN contributor Polly LaBarre on In the Money, June 9, 2007:
"We work longer hours, we work harder, we work with fewer breaks than any other industrialized nation on Earth....To put this in perspective, we work more than medieval peasants used to work....We’re a country that has no mandated paid vacation whereas the European Union has a floor of 20 days and vacation champs like France and Sweden offer 39, 40 paid days."
Katie Couric, April 4, 2005 Today show:
"So many Americans feel overworked, and I have a statistic — 30 percent do not take their full vacation. I mean, is there something wrong with this picture? Are we too obsessed with work, because the Europeans sure have a very different attitude don’t they?"
NBC’s Today, August 1, 2001:
Keith Miller: "Break out the band, bring on the drinks. The French are calling it a miracle. A government-mandated 35-hour work week is changing the French way of life. Two years ago, in an effort to create more jobs, the government imposed a shorter work week on large companies, forcing them to hire more workers....These American women, all working in France, have time for lunch and a life."
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox: "More Americans should be more aware that an economy as successful as the French one managed to be successful without giving up everything else in life."
Katie Couric, following the end of Miller’s taped piece: "So great that young mother being able to come home at three every day and spend that time with her child. Isn’t that nice? The French, they’ve got it right, don’t they?"
Matt Lauer to Escape magazine’s Joe Robinson, a proponent of mandated vacation, June 12, 2000 Today show:
"Americans are working more and getting less vacation time than people in any other industrialized nation....I feel strange saying, I never stopped to think about the fact there is no official U.S. policy on vacation time."
The MRC’s Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript from the end of the Monday, February 18 World News on ABC:
CHARLES GIBSON: Finally tonight, did you work today? It is, after all, a federal holiday, Washington's birthday. It's a holiday in many states, as well. But we learned today Americans are apparently uncomfortable taking days away from work. Consider this number: It is estimated Americans give back 438 million vacation days a year, 438 million. People could be sitting on a beach, taking pictures of themselves in front of famous landmarks, playing golf, just kicking back reading a book. But no, they work. America is the only major country in the world that has no government-mandated time off. 75 percent of Americans do get paid vacation, 14 days the average. But then the average worker gives back three of those days. Why do we do this to ourselves?
SUSAN GINSBERG, WORK AND FAMILY LIFE NEWSLETTER: People are scared that if they leave and if they're away for a few weeks that something is going to happen, and that they're not going to, that somebody's going take their job.
GIBSON: And when Americans do take time off, 60 percent of us are checking office e-mails. IBM might as well stand for "Infernal Beach Machine." But the thing is, psychologists say people are better workers, less stressed, if they take their time. So you might consider moving to France. There, the government requires 31 vacation days plus holidays. And someone asked me today, "Why are you making a big deal of this? You're at work today." Good point. That's World News for this holiday. I'm Charlie Gibson. I hope you had a good day. For all of us at ABC News, have a good night.