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Europeans could give US workers some relaxation tips

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The U.S. is the fifth most productive country in the world, but its nine European counterparts on the top ten list all have one thing in common: they take a lot more vacation time.

Top 10 Most Productive Countries OEC

SOURCE: OECD


Workers in France, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands aren't just cogs in the wheel: the wheel comes to a stop, and European companies often have built-in vacations for a full month in July or August.

The tradition of synchronized summer breaks can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution, when it was more practical to send workers away at the same time.

Though the days of steam power's renaissance and the debut of the factory worker are long over, the practice of compulsory, concurrent employee vacations continues today in much of Europe.

Some German automobile manufacturers, like Porsche, close shop for three weeks in the summer, although other car makers in Italy and Germany abandoned the customary month-long hiatus.

Many firms in Norway shut down, and even Norwegian banks and other basic services run on limited summer hours.

Taking a mandatory recess is so commonplace in Europe that some nations have a special word for it: Norway calls the obligatory intermission in productivity fellesferie, and the Netherlands refer to theirs as bouwvak.

Nowadays, this mass exodus has its drawbacks. According to the Economist, European firms have had to adjust for international partners, especially in Asia, where a summer sabbatical isn't part of company policy and where associates need the ability to correspond with their European colleagues.

Foreign tourists who flock to Europe in the summer also have a bone to pick with the dearth of open shops, too. In France, laws allotting citizens five weeks off in the summertime had to be amended for Parisian bakeries.

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Barring access to baguettes and croissants for such an extended amount of time had locals and tourists alike bemoaning the loss of the nation's most beloved breads.

Bakeries now shutter their doors in shifts across Paris, which also means less competition in a season with a high volume of customers.

France Baguettes

SOURCE: MICHEL EULER/AP


But not everyone wants a forced holiday, especially during the most expensive time of year to travel.

Workers and trade unions in Germany, the Netherlands, and elsewhere have started to push for the freedom to expend their time off as they see fit.

Whether European employees are content to take their designated days off or not, many psychologists consider a long break to be vital to the health of both body and mind.

According to Psychology Today, the stress and fatigue produced in daily office life is detrimental to the body's ability to fight infection, maintain normal digestion, and even avoid injuries.

A respite from everyday anxieties at the office can have numerous benefits to a person's mental and physical health, simply by hitting the off button and relaxing.

Vacation, then, is a medical necessity, and taking a few days to tend to mental health can keep workplace irritation from becoming a worse psychological problem.

Once Americans catch up to Europeans and learn to kick back, relax, and step away from the daily grind, they'll just have to resist the urge to check their work email while lounging on the beach.

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