Saturday, March 22, 2008

Suunday dollars+sense: Here's to holidays

Enjoying the break? It's important. Perhaps even more important than your annual holidays. Every holiday we that take gives us time to rest, and (after a day or two of adjustment) time to appreciate that there is more to life than work.

But public holidays do something else as well. They allow us to socialise with friends we can't easily catch up with during our ordinary leave. Over Easter, and especially on Good Friday, almost every workplace is shut.

And the benefits appear to spread.

Two years back two German economists, Joachim Merz and Lars Osberg examined the ways in which two different groups of Germans used their ordinary working days and weekends...

One lived in the parts of the country that had many public holidays – up to 17 per year - and the other in parts that had comparatively few – as little as 13 per year.

The published their findings in an evocatively titled paper - Keeping in Touch - A Benefit of Public Holidays.

Using diaries kept by 5,400 households they found that those in
regions with lots of public holidays spent 37 per cent more time going
out for entertainment and 21 per ent more time going to community
meetings throughout the rest of the year.

Put another way they found that an extra 3 days of public holidays
created an extra 7.5 days of social engagements.

Friendships are like plants. They need tending in order to survive.

As more and more of us have been working unsociable hours and as some
of us (under WorkChoices) have sacrificed a fortnight of holidays in
return for more pay, friendships have become harder to tend.

Public holidays allow us to tend friendships at the time when our
friends are also on holidays. In the words of the economists, they
give us "somebody to play with".

We don't have many public holidays in Australia. Most states have 11,
there are 12 in the ACT. As I mentioned, Germany has 13 as a minimum
and up to 17; Israel has 34.

A few more couldn't harm our productivity. (Productivity is measured
as output per hour worked).

And they would enhance what makes us human.

A few years back for the ABC on a special public holiday I phoned the
heads of Australia's leading employer organisations who were
complaining about its effect on their output. I couldn't get in touch
with most. They were out on the Harbour, in the sun.

Joachim Merz and Lars Osberg , Keeping in Touch: A Benefit of Public Holidays, IZA Discussion Paper No. 2089, April 2006

Andrew Leigh