Employee expectations around vacation policies can vary drastically across different regions of the world. According to Forbes, while the average American worker receives 16 days of paid leave each year, this number may be more than double in Scandinavia, parts of South America and other nations.

A study by employer branding consultant Universum, found that Scandinavian, European and South American employers populated most of the top global spots for job satisfaction factors and employer loyalty. As HCM leaders look to continuously improve employee retention and happiness, vacation and flex time policies could be an important element of the overall employee experience. To meet the needs of a global workforce, understanding variance in laws and cultural norms is critical.

1. Scandinavia

Four to five weeks of annual vacation in Sweden and Norway each year is the norm for Scandinavian workers. And it's clear that there's strong cultural support behind workers using their full allotted vacation days, with 88 percent of Norwegians and 80 percent of Swedes feeling "encouraged to take vacations" by senior management, according to the Daily Good.

U.S.-based SAS, for example, is rated among Norway's top employers. In addition to generous vacation, Norwegian employees enjoy flexible hours, work-from-home freedom, a bring-your-children to work policy, and leave to care for aging parents.

2. The European Union

According to FindLaw, European Union law dictates that workers are given at least 20 to 30 days paid vacation time each year, which is often in addition to paid holidays. Despite those trends, the Daily Good notes that 90 percent of French workers feel "vacation-deprived," and only 49 percent of Germans feel actively encouraged to use their allotted days off. However, time away from work isn't Europe's only investment in worker happiness. The Huffington Post also notes that legislation and employee federations are increasingly encouraging workers to avoid working during evenings and weekends.

3. Australia and New Zealand

In Australia, a combined total of over 30 days paid leave each year is average, according to Working in Australia, and 76 percent of workers feel encouraged to use their vacation days. Business Insider writes that worker happiness index studies of Australia and New Zealand put those countries in the 11th and 8th spots, respectively, in global happiness.

The same study discovered that national wealth had minimal impact on worker happiness and engagement. Instead, a comprehensive culture of encouraging work-life balance — including generous vacation policies — pushed the region near the top.

In fact, some of the best-regarded employers in Oceania choose to exceed requirements for vacation leave significantly. Warehouse Stationary, for example, is a New Zealand-based enterprise that offers five additional forms of leave, including time for birthdays, sports and "long service," which is additional time off that is redeemable after long tenure with an employer.

4. Asia

While Asian countries tend to surpass the U.S. in terms of paid vacation, they're still ranked toward the bottom of the global list. On average, APAC workers receive 19 days of vacation and only take 14 days, according to Expedia's Vacation Deprivation study. In some countries, such as South Korea, just 7 out of 14 earned days were taken. According to Reuters, in Singapore, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, 55 percent of employers reported they were not doing a good job developing fair flex-time policies.

5. South America

South American vacation laws can vary, but include some of the most generous options worldwide. According to Mondaq, Brazilian employees are guaranteed 30 days every 12 months, as well as an additional salary bonus for their vacation period. Time off is also perceived as a matter of "workers' health, safety and well being." Peru is also similarly generous, with 30 days vacation accrued per year of service, though this may be reduced in agreement with the employer according to Baker & McKenzie.

There's a wealth of different approaches to vacation policies worldwide, and employee expectations vary accordingly. Global organizations should account for these differences when designing worldwide policies for vacation since cultural norms appear to have a strong influence on employee expectations. By concentrating on shaping policies that address those regional expectations, leaders can improve engagement and happiness across their global workforce.

Tags: Retention global workforce Culture Employee Engagement