I am not very good at hiding my feelings. (Just ask Brian.) And right now, I must vent. So vent I will to you, in the hopes that my struggles will help or speak to someone else out there going through the same thing.
I am fed up with the Danish vacation system.
Whaaat?! I can hear you all exclaiming. Isn’t this the system that gives every worker 5 weeks of vacation every year? Yes, yes it is. But… well, just listen.
I’m used to the US vacation system. In this system, you start your new job as a bright eyed and bushy tailed new hire. You may have a probationary period of 6 months or so before you can earn or use any vacation. But once that is over, you earn vacation days with each paycheck. And those days are available for you to use at any point during the year. Most important for our discussion, they’re available immediately.
The Danish system, apparently, is not like this.*
In this system, there are two time periods that are important: the calendar year and the vacation year, which runs from May to April. You accrue vacation days according to the calendar year, starting in January. However, those days are not able to be used until the next May. So days earned in 2013 are not available to take until May 2014. You have one year, until the next April, to use your vacation days. Plus, when you start your new job there is usually a probationary period in which you cannot use your vacation.
So what’s the problem? I hear you asking. There may not really be a problem if you’re Danish. But if you’re an expat who’s only planing on being here for, say, 3 years, this turns into a big annoyance. Why? Let me give you an example.
We moved to Denmark at the end of July 2013, and Brian started his job at the beginning of August. Brian carried over 5 vacation days from his pervious job. (Technically, he works for the same company he did in the US, but since it’s a whole new country he’s not allowed to have any of the US vacation that he would have built up based on his seniority in the company. He has to start over like a brand new employee.)
Since Brian only worked August through December, he earned only 8 vacation days in 2013. Those 8 days become available to him starting May 1. He will not have any additional vacation to use until 2015.**
Let me just emphasize that a little bit more. We will have been here for 22 months with Brian working for a Danish company the whole time before he can use anything more than those 8 days of vacation. As we’re only planning on being here 3 years, that will give us 14 months, just over a year, of actual Danish vacation.
I just… I just don’t understand this.
The first time Brian and I tried to sit down and figure this out, I was stunned. I was flummoxed. I was flabbergasted. There is no possible way this is right, I thought. Why would you ever do this? How could this ever make any sense? There must be some reason for the rule that says you can’t use your vacation as you accrue it. Perhaps because there’s so much of it?? But I’m just grasping at straws, trying to understand. So you’re telling me that even a Danish citizen who starts a new job at a new company in January has to wait until the next May to take his vacation? Doesn’t that just seem… unfair? Like an unfairly long amount of time to wait? Shouldn’t there be some kind of stop gap? Like, maybe you don’t get all 5 weeks up front, I can understand that, but you do get 2 weeks that first year? Why must there be a calendar year and a vacation year? Doesn’t that just complicate things??
When I start talking about this, I just end up asking a bunch of questions that get increasingly higher and higher pitched as my incredulity shows a little more with each question.
I just don’t get it.
It’s a stupid, third world problem, I know, and I do feel a bit like I’m just whining. But it makes life as an expat more challenging. Our big trip home, the first in a year of being away, will have to be shortened and carefully planned to minimize vacation days used. The trips we were hoping to take to Europe – just one or two this year – will have to be cut back, turned into rushed weekends. It all sounds so silly as I’m typing it, but it’s seriously frustrating. All you hear before moving to Europe is how easy it will be to travel, how many exciting things you’ll see. And our ability to do all those things, take advantage of all the opportunities that come with living in Europe, has been cut back by almost 2 years.
So, I’m just sharing my frustrations. Maybe some of you have experienced the same thing. Maybe some of you think it’s a stupid thing to worry about. I know we’ll get over it and adjust. 8 days isn’t that much less than what most people get in the US, after all. But for today, it’s what I’m frustrated with. And maybe it will cause some of you who are thinking of moving to Denmark to call your HR people and ask just what your vacation situation will be once you get here so it doesn’t surprise you like it did us.
*I will put a caveat here and say that this system may not be the same across employers, so our experience may not reflect everyone’s experience with accruing and using vacation benefits in Denmark.
**Second caveat: the infamous 5 weeks of vacation is a right of any employee in Denmark, and you can always take that vacation at any time. However, it will be unpaid vacation until you get past all of these regulations.