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Annual leave vs productivity: does more really equal more?

3 August 2023 4 min read

annual leave vs productivity

We previously wrote an article detailing some examples of ‘summer shutdowns’ that are common to many countries in Europe. Large portions of the workforce will take 2-4 consecutive weeks off between July and August, with some organisations even closing down entirely for a couple of weeks to a couple of months.

Many of these European countries also legislate some of the most generous annual leave allowances in the world. So what effect does a liberal holiday entitlement (and a favourable attitude towards taking holidays) have on productivity levels?

When it comes to annual leave vs. productivity, does more really equal more?

Annual leave

It’s worth highlighting that many European countries have higher annual leave allowances, more public holidays, and shorter average working weeks to those elsewhere in the world.

All EU member countries are required to provide a minimum of four weeks’ paid holiday allowance each year, with some choosing to go above this.

Austria and Portugal top the list for the highest annual leave allowance – with employees in these countries receiving 35 days, Spain and Germany follow closely with 34 days, and France provides 31 days.

In other countries, such as Sweden, the United Kingdom, Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Switzerland and Latvia, the minimum entitlement varies from 20 days to 28 days.

Even a paid leave allowance of 20 days is still generous compared with that of many other countries around the world. In Japan for example, employees are entitled to 10 days of paid leave, which increases to 20 days after 6.5 years of employment with the same company.

And in Mexico, the minimum requirement is 12 days as of 1st January 2023, having previously stood at just 6 days per year.

In China, employees are not entitled to any paid leave during the first year of their employment. This increases to 5 days per year up to 10 years of service, and eventually rising to 15 days after 20 years of service.

Across Africa, annual leave policies are varied, ranging from at least 20 days in countries such as South Africa and Egypt, to a mere 6 days in Nigeria (where employees must complete one year of holiday-free work in order to qualify for it).

It’s clear that annual leave entitlements vary greatly around the world – but European countries remain reasonably consistent and generous across the board.

Does a higher annual leave entitlement equal higher productivity?

Using the latest data available from the OCED (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and the World Bank, the countries which make up the top ten list of GDP per hours worked is as follows:


  1. Luxembourg
  2. Ireland
  3. Norway
  4. Switzerland
  5. Denmark
  6. Netherlands
  7. Germany
  8. Sweden
  9. Austria
  10. Iceland


An impressive list of European countries! Including some that have notably shorter average working weeks, such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria and Iceland. So, despite working fewer hours on average, and having adequate amounts of annual leave and a propensity to make the most of it, these countries are still ranking extremely highly when it comes to productivity.

The top 10 happiest countries in the world

The World Happiness Report 2023, which is produced by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, looks at six key factors when assessing the happiness levels of more than 150 countries. These include: social support, income, health, freedom, absence of corruption and generosity.

For the sixth year in a row, Finland ranks as the happiest country in the world – but interestingly, many of the top ten countries in the list are also in Europe. These include: Denmark (no. 2), Iceland (no. 3), Netherlands (no. 5), Sweden (no. 6), Norway (no. 7), Switzerland (no. 8) and Luxembourg (no. 9).

Plenty of annual leave, greater productivity and comparatively higher happiness levels can be found in most of these countries. It seems positive attitudes towards summer, taking longer breaks, and ensuring there is real balance between work and life really does make a difference both in terms of wellbeing and workplace productivity.

Want to find out more about global attitudes to workplace leave?

We recently published our whitepaper, Exploring Global Attitudes to Workplace Leave, which explores the differences in how employees and organisations approach annual leave around the world.

We conducted a survey asking just that – including how comfortable employees feel booking time off, whether they worry about their workload when they’re on holiday, and how often they check their work emails outside of working hours.

See how your habits compare to those around the world and download our whitepaper for free here.

Georgina at edays
August 3, 2023

Georgina Mackintosh is an accomplished copywriter and marketing professional with a background that spans several industries. Her writing focuses on HR topics such as employee wellbeing, engagement and experience - as well as absence management best practice, how-to guides and news from the HR sector.