Holiday Monday Briefing
With the holiday season in full swing London is always quieter at this time of year. Certainly not as quiet as Paris, where, famously les grande vacances mean that much of the country takes August off, but still quieter than usual.

As the summer holidays approach their end, this week's Monday Briefing examines the winners and losers in terms of holidays and working time.

Europeans tend to express amazement at how few paid days off Americans get. Uniquely among developed nations, there are no statutory paid holidays in the US and employers decide how much to offer.

US Federal employees do get paid public holidays and vacations but provision is patchier in the private sector. As a result almost a quarter of Americans gets no paid holidays. The average paid holiday entitlement in the private sector, at 16 days, is less than half European levels. Remarkably, 40% of Americans choose not to take their full holiday entitlement.

Japan and South Korea are other rich, industrialised countries where holidays are thin on ground. Ten days is the norm in Japan, 15 in South Korea.

Northern European and some Mediterranean countries offer the best combination of long holidays, short working weeks and high standards of living in the world.

The Finns have the longest paid holidays in Europe, 39 days in all, with the Greeks on 37 days and the French, Spanish and Swedes at 36 days. France is particularly generous, with all employees entitled to a minimum of 30 days paid holiday a year and companies required to offer 12 days of holiday in one stretch. Germans get 33 days paid holiday a year.

At the bottom of the European holiday league are Britons and Dutch, on 28 days holiday a year.

Long holidays tend to go hand in hand with short work weeks, though always the conspicuous exceptions are the Greeks and the Portuguese who get the same number of paid holidays as the French, but put in far more hours at work than the Americans.

Like long holidays, the world's shortest working weeks are to be found in the rich, mainly Northern European nations. Germans work the fewest hours of any industrialised nation. The average private sector employee in Germany gets 17 days more holiday than their US counterpart and spends three fewer months working.

Some see long European holidays as a sign of chronic inefficiency. But in some respects the reverse is true. The most efficient economies can afford high incomes and long holidays. Famously high productivity enables Germans to enjoy long holidays, the shortest working week in the industrialised world and high incomes. The Scandinavian economies manage a similar feat.

If Germany and Scandinavia are the exemplars there are other countries whose experience points to different conclusions.

France has very high levels of productivity, exceeding even Germany's. But France's regulated labour market encourages employers to minimise costs by using fixed term contracts and temporary workers and by investing in labour saving processes. The result is an economy in which strong productivity, long holidays and a short work week for those in permanent jobs go hand in hand with high unemployment.

Greeks enjoy long holidays, but they put in more hours at work in a year than any other European country - 50% more than the Germans and 13% more than the Americans. In Greece the problem is poor output per hour and high unemployment, not too little time at work.

Unsurprisingly, putting in very long hours tends to make workers less productive. Research by the International Labour Office (ILO) found that in many US industries shorter hours were associated with higher rates of output per hour. A long running research project by the OECD concluded that when annual working hours exceed 1,925 hours – which is well below what Greeks or Mexicans put in – productivity falls almost 1.0% for every 1.0% increase in working time.

The long working hours which are commonplace in Japan and South Korea do not deliver high levels of productivity. A tendency to focus on 'presenteeism', being in work, even if not operating at peak effectiveness, leads to levels of output per hour that are well below US and Northern European levels.

Working hard is universally seen as a virtue, and with reason. But raising incomes and welfare is not always about doing more - it could be about working more efficiently, and working fewer hours.

The columnist Lucy Kellaway picked up on this theme in yesterday's Financial Times. She wrote that she is seeing a trend towards people disconnecting completely from work when on holiday. Kellaway concluded, "To be emailing from the pool is starting to be seen for what it is – a sign of weakness, poor time management and an inability to delegate."

Efficiency – or in economist speak, productivity - is the surest guarantee of long holidays and a short working week.