TIME Careers & Workplace

How to Disagree With Your Boss and Still Get Ahead

The Boss mug on a desk
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Disagreeing with your boss in the right way can benefit your organization as well as your career

The fear of disagreeing with authority is universal. It exists in life, and certainly in the regimented corporate workplace. While millennials are arguably more willing to express their opinions to a superior, most workers still remain shy – to the detriment of their career progress.

The fact is that it is not only possible to disagree with your boss without endangering your job, but the willingness to do so could put you on the fast track to professional success. What we tend to forget is that most managers benefit from having their employees provide constructive feedback and contribute original ideas. It can help the managers do their own job more effectively and easily.

The key lies in why and how that disagreement is communicated. Here are 5 tips that can help you navigate those waters successfully:

  1. Make sure you are disagreeing for the right reason. Too often, we disagree to compensate for our own lack of authority, without a good reason or an end goal in mind. That’s a serious mistake since it can compromise your professional credibility with your boss. It’s also just annoying. Disagreements that have a valid context and add real value, on the other hand, can be a big plus.
  2. Disagreeing is not about arguing but making an argument. Anyone who argues routinely with their boss is likely to be eventually fired. But a worker who frames her disagreement as a logical and thoughtful argument in favor of a better approach to a situation or a new idea will be heard gladly, and win serious points with the boss. Avoid attacking other people’s views or complaining and focus instead on making your own constructive points.
  3. Do your homework. Nothing irks a manager more than a worker who insists on sharing his opinion but hasn’t done the research to support and stress test his argument. It shows intellectual laziness on the part of the worker and fails to provide the manager with the tools to evaluate the input. Think about it. If you don’t do your homework, you are effectively forcing your boss to do it for you. Could that ever be a good idea?
  4. Be passionate but not emotional. Arguments are more convincing when they are delivered with passion. The listener needs to feel that you genuinely care about your suggestions, believe in your perspective, and are willing to take ownership of it. But that doesn’t need to involve an excess of emotion, which can make you look hysterical and your boss feel pressured. A clear, confident, and calm presentation will have the best impact.
  5. Speak in the same language as your boss. Some people are extremely data-driven whereas others are more intuitive. Knowing your boss’ personality will help you relate better and communicate your argument more effectively. Put yourself in your boss’ shoes. If you think in numbers, then a numerical argument might persuade you of a different viewpoint whereas a purely gut-based presentation will meet with instant skepticism.

To summarize, don’t be afraid to disagree with your boss. Alternative views and good ideas can benefit your organization as well as your own career. Just follow these guidelines to do it the right way.

Sanjay Sanghoee is a business commentator. He has worked at investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, at hedge fund Ramius Capital, and has an MBA from Columbia Business School.

MONEY Bankruptcy

Bankrupt RadioShack Wants to Reward Execs With Bonus Pay

RadioShack with clearance sign in window
Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Why should CEOs make more when their companies fail?

For most Americans, the “failure” concept is scary precisely because it means taking a financial hit. For a few others, though, there tends to be a little more victory — or at least a lot less agony — in defeat. Even in the midst of what most of us would call epic failure, the top tiers of corporate managements often get paid handsomely despite failure.

Take RadioShack’s RADIOSHACK CORP. RSHCQ 28.03% bankruptcy for example. Despite being broke, the retailer is now angling to pay out several million to a handful of employees.

Just a little set aside

RadioShack, which finally filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection recently, has asked the bankruptcy court to allow it to allot $3 million for retention bonuses to give eight executives and 30 other employees financial incentive to stay on board.

It’s still unclear who exactly would qualify for the bonuses, which would range from $88,000-$650,000 for eight executives, with the additional $1 million set aside for 30 others who also landed in the “critical employee” bucket.

Meanwhile, though, many of the 27,500 RadioShack employees out there are likely worried about their jobs or have already been laid off. When it comes to regular old severance, RadioShack had already changed its policy in December so that former employees would no longer receive lump sums, but instead get payments in weekly or bi-weekly dribs and drabs until the full amount is reached.

Given the bankruptcy, that also means they’re just part of the huge crowd of entities to which RadioShack owes money — money they may or may not receive.

Looking up the (pay) record

RadioShack had already been using its scarce financial reserves to try to convince upper tier execs to stay long before this most recent setback.

Last year, the company agreed to pay Chief Executive Officer Joe Magnacca a $500,000 bonus to hang in there through next year; its rationale was “due consideration of the skills and talent deemed critical to the company’s business turnaround efforts currently under way, the difficult business environment, and the competition for skilled, talented employees.” Other executives were eligible for bonuses of $187,500 and $275,000 at the time.

Clearly, the incentives didn’t do much to help the struggling chain, which hasn’t reported a profit since the year ended December 2011. Things were bad enough without its own strategic missteps; the electronics landscape is super competitive, and it had to contend with a multitude of big-box stores like Best Buy BEST BUY BBY 1.17% , not to mention online powerhouse Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.62% .

However, it’s pretty easy to say management’s strategy was lacking, too. Take last year’s bizarre decision to spend big bucks on a Super Bowl commercial. The retailer went on to report continued poor financial results and 1,100 store closures shortly thereafter.

It hasn’t been lost on RadioShack’s shareholders that some people have been making gains despite the retailer’s struggle to survive — and it wasn’t them.

Last August, the majority of RadioShack shareholders used their say-on-pay votes to express displeasure with overall CEO pay policies for the second year in a row. Only 43% voted in favor of the pay plan. In 2013, CEO Magnacca had received a base salary of $893,000, and a $1.3 million bonus, $1 million of which was a sign-on bonus.

The bankruptcy benefits club

Word of RadioShack’s request gave me a case of déjà vu. In 2011, Borders sought to pay out $8.3 million in bonuses as it plodded through bankruptcy and shut down stores in its efforts to put its financial house back in order. (As we all know, though, Borders ultimately couldn’t be saved.)

Digging deeper in my archive for related topics, I remembered that in 2012, The Wall Street Journal published an article called The CEO Bankruptcy Bonus, which revealed some disturbing data along these lines.

It teamed up with consulting firm Valeo Partners and studied CEO pay at 21 of the largest 100 companies that had gone through bankruptcy. Those CEOs together raked in $350 million when one takes into account base salary, bonuses, stock, and severance, and some enjoyed larger windfalls during bankruptcy protection than they had beforehand.

The median pay for the studied set of folks was $8.7 million, only a tad lower than the $9.1 million median pay for regular S&P 500 companies at the time. RadioShack’s case is grating, but it’s not without precedent.

Death of the meritocracy

The court will decide whether RadioShack can go forward with the bonuses at a hearing scheduled for March 4.

Regardless of RadioShack’s specific outcome, this situation highlights some questions about our own society’s view on merit, money, and the marketplace.

Why do so many default to a hard-edged “tough luck” attitude toward most Americans when things like mass layoffs go down, yet shrug or sometimes even defend CEOs and other high-ranking executives who make out like bandits even though their performance has been poor or even downright damaging?

Things like bonuses for bankruptcy and a more common insult to common sense, golden parachutes, represent perverse incentives.

It’s time to rethink who we see fit to reward, and why. The last thing a healthy marketplace needs is incentive to fail.

Check back at Fool.com for more of Alyce Lomax’s columns on environmental, social, and governance issues. Alyce Lomax has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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MONEY Aging

Pop Goes the Age Discrimination Bubble

senior man blowing bubble out of gum
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Age discrimination charges have returned to pre-recession levels—another sign we're getting back to normal

The popular narrative holds that age discrimination is off the charts and employers can’t shed workers past 50 quickly enough. Yet age-related complaints filed with the federal government fell for the sixth consecutive year in 2014, and the percentage of cases found to be reasonable have been trending lower for two decades.

Certainly, there remains cause for concern. The 20,588 charges filed under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act are higher than in any year before the recession. But the number is down from 21,396 in 2013 and from a peak of 24,582 in 2008, according to new data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Meanwhile, the EEOC found reasonable cause in only 2.7% of the cases filed. That is up from 2.4% in 2013 but otherwise the lowest rate since at least 1997. Monetary awards hit a five-year low of $78 million.

Just about everyone past 50 knows someone who believes they were discriminated against in the workplace because of their age. In a 2012 survey, AARP found that 77% of Americans between 45 and 54 said employees face age discrimination. Clearly, in many cases older workers command higher wages. Organizations can cut costs and make room for younger workers by moving older workers out—even though doing so on the basis of age is against the law.

This helps explain the rise in age discrimination charges during and since the recession, when companies undertook vast reorganizations and laid off millions of workers to cut costs and adjust to the slow economy. Older workers who lost their job have had a difficult time finding employment, further driving them to seek relief wherever possible.

Now age-related charges in the workplace are roughly at pre-recession levels. Charges ranged between 16,008 and 19,124 from 2000 through 2007. Returning to near this level is the latest sign—along with more jobs and rising wages—that the economy is getting back to normal.

Age discrimination is a serious issue. It is more difficult to prove than discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or disability. It also takes a heavier toll than other forms of discrimination on the health of victims, research shows. Boomers who want to stay at work typically need the income or the health insurance that comes with full-time employment. Turning them away places a greater burden on public resources.

Meanwhile, older workers have a lot to offer, including institutional knowledge, experience, and reliability. Some forward-thinking organizations including the National Institutes of Health, Stanley Consultants, and Michelin North America, among many others, embrace a seasoned workforce and have programs designed to attract and keep workers past 50.

None of this is to say age discrimination is no longer a problem. One alarming aspect of the EEOC state data is that warm climates popular with older people have a high rate of age-discrimination complaints. No state had a higher percentage of EEOC age-related complaints last year than Texas (9.2%). Florida had 8.5% of all cases and Arizona had 3%.

Federal officials note that the government shutdown last year contributed to a falloff in cases filed. So official complaints may be understated last year. And an overwhelming number of age-related sleights at the office never get reported. Still, the bubble in recession-related age discrimination cases appears to have been popped. That’s a start.

MONEY Startups

3 Reasons to Take Your Startup in a New Direction

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Robert A. Di Ieso

Many successful companies changed up their business plans early on. Here's when you should too.

Podcast platform Odeo turned into Twitter. Check-in app Burbn switched its focus to photo sharing and became Instagram. Does your startup need a change in direction to succeed? Here are three signs it’s time to revamp:

1. Customers Are Telling You

Is your target buyer consistently asking for something you don’t offer? “Customers exist because you make them better off,” says Gary Gebhardt, an associate professor of marketing at Canadian business school HEC Montréal. Listen to them.

2. Your Idea Isn’t Sticking

Do you have a hard time holding on to business? Go beyond focus groups and surveys. People often misrepresent their behavior. Instead, says Gebhardt, observe your customers going about their day. “When you see how people do things, you see how you can create a solution,” he says.

3. The Competition is Winning

Look at why people are favoring your rival’s product. But don’t panic pivot, says Steve Blank, co-author of The Startup Owner’s Manual. “A pivot requires substantial evidence that your original hypotheses for your business were incorrect.”

MONEY Jon Stewart

3 Ways to Be More Like Jon Stewart

The comedian demonstrates how to execute a job departure at the top of your game.

As you’ve probably heard, Jon Stewart, the beloved host of Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” announced this week that he’ll soon leave the show after 17 years.

It seems clear from his own words—and the desperation of his employer to find a bankable replacement—that Stewart is departing of his own accord and on his own terms. And yet, unlike his former acolyte and fellow late-night star Stephen Colbert (who will take over David Letterman’s chair on CBS in the fall), Stewart will apparently leave his perch without a planned landing.

His reasons? “I don’t know that there will ever be anything that I will ever be as well suited for as this show,” he told NPR’s Terry Gross last year. “That being said, I think there are moments when you realize that that’s not enough anymore, or that maybe it’s time for some discomfort.”

It’s a sentiment that many of us can identify with, even if directing feature films or a future in national politics aren’t likely to figure into our own second acts. The fact is, countless mid- and late-career professionals feel restless in their jobs, find that they have nowhere left to go at their organizations, or simply feel burned out.

Whether or not that description fits you, there’s a great deal that almost anyone can learn from the funnyman’s gracefully planned exit.

1. Know when it’s time to say goodbye

Do you constantly complain about work? Do your achievements go unrecognized? Do you end each week frustrated and dread Mondays? Do you see no professional path ahead? “Yes” answers to any or all of these are probably a good sign that you may have gotten all you can out of your job and it’s time to consider other professional options, because chances are those feelings are having a negative impact on your work.

By most accounts, Stewart is still at or near the top of his game; according to the Wall Street Journal, “The Daily Show” was number one among younger viewers by a wide margin as recently as last season. Follow his example and recognize your lack of focus before your audience, your boss, or your subordinates do.

“You have to choose the right moment,” says career coach Roy Cohen. “Ideally it’s when the stars seem to align, whether that’s the company offering a buyout or right after you have wound down a successful project.”

That way you’ll be able to go out on your own timetable, with financial stability, and heading in your desired direction.

2. Lay the groundwork for your second act before ending your first

Stewart isn’t leaving “The Daily Show” on a whim. He took a three-month break during summer 2013 to direct Rosewater, a critically acclaimed film about an Iranian journalist and political prisoner. This sabbatical appears to have given Stewart a chance to do a test-run of life outside his comfort zone, and it certainly proved that he could hold his own doing something very different.

Cohen says doing that kind of thinking ahead of time is key for anyone considering a career move.

“First, engage in an assessment of your biggest goals,” he advises. “Ask yourself honestly: What do I like? What don’t I like? Where have I succeeded? Where have I failed?”

He also advises those considering an exit to start planning early and do a reality check on how long the transition will take. “I’ve had clients who didn’t carefully plan their exit and then felt they had shortchanged themselves in their second acts,” Cohen warns.

For some people, careful planning will mean searching for and landing another job before leaving their current one. (Call it the Stephen Colbert approach.) For others, it’s taking classes that will expand your skill set, or just saving up enough money to give yourself the time to figure things out and set off in the next direction.

Or there might be an in-between approach that involves a part-time or consulting arrangement to help your former employer through the transition—and sustain your bank account—while also carving out enough time to get a fresh degree or otherwise establishing your bona fides in a new field.

3. Make your people into stars

Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, John Oliver, and Ed Helms are just a few of the once-obscure, now well-known comics that Jon Stewart helped launch and move onto bigger things. You can be sure they’ll ardently support him in any next endeavor, and probably spend a good deal of social, political, or financial capital to do so.

Of course, mentoring and otherwise helping others advance their careers is part of the job description of most managers. But taking this role seriously can have reciprocal benefits down the road when it’s time to explore new professional avenues.

If you’ve been generous with your time, accolades, and connections, your former employees will likely do the same when you are looking to start your next chapter. They’ll become an active network of supporters, able to bridge you into new industries and professional communities; clue you in on and recommend you for exciting opportunities; and may even give you your next dream job.

MONEY Workplace

How to Deal When You’re Promoted Above Your Peers

Illustration by Mikey Burton

When a promotion kicks you out of the coffee klatch, you’ll need to keep your former peers from becoming your future critics.

Right after you celebrate that well-earned promotion, reality hits: You’re now the boss of people who had been your peers. “When you become a supervisor, the relationship structurally changes, whether you like it or not,” says Good Boss, Bad Boss author Robert Sutton, a Stanford University professor who studies organizational behavior.

Going forward, your work will be judged on your ability to lead people with whom you used to consort and complain. If that’s not enough pressure, you’re now at risk of being the one complained about. Make the transition seamless with these steps.

Meet One-on-One

Sit down with each person to discuss the change in leadership. “You’re in learning mode,” says Linda Hill, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of Being the Boss. Ask staffers to share their short- and long-term goals, skills they’re building, and obstacles that get in the way of doing their jobs. You’ll convey respect and gain valuable info that can help you achieve buy-in.

Also, if you were promoted over a colleague, “address the elephant in the room” and alleviate worries about your ability to work well together, advises Atlanta social media strategist and job coach Miriam Salpeter.

Step Back Socially

You can be a great manager and preserve friendships by slightly altering your behaviors. Continue attending happy hour, for example, but stay for only one drink, suggests Hill. Allow your staff space to vent. “We all need to blow off steam sometimes,” says Katy Tynan, author of Survive Your Promotion! (Just make it clear to your people that if something is really bugging them, they can talk to you, she adds.)

Also, disconnect from your subordinates on all non-work-related social media. “Many times you’re doing people a favor, since it puts less pressure on what they can and can’t share on their profiles,” says Salpeter. Do let employees know before unfriending them, though, so that they don’t take it personally.

Prove You Don’t Play Favorites

Prepare to make—and to justify—difficult decisions, particularly regarding raises and promotions. To be seen as objective, try to grade everyone using the same metrics, and be sure people know what those metrics are, says Keith Murnighan, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

To show humility, solicit feedback from subordinates on your own performance, says Gentz Franz, a University of Illinois lecturer who studies job succession. “It’s incumbent upon managers,” he says, “to open the lines of communication if they want to create a collaborative work environment.”

MONEY Careers

The Stock Market Is No Place for Millennials

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Roberto Westbrook—Getty Images

Investing in yourself, not the S&P 500, often makes more sense for young adults.

When most people think of investing, they think of the stock market. But that is rarely the best place for young professionals to invest their hard-earned money. Instead, they need to be investing in themselves.

You’ve undoubtedly heard that it’s important to start investing early for retirement. Whoever tells you that will most likely mention the concept of compound returns, as well.

Compound returns are great. Heck, it’s widely repeated that compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. But I’m not sold on the stock market strategy for twentysomethings with limited cash flow.

Most recent graduates come out of school filled with theoretical knowledge about their major. Although this knowledge can be useful at times, it is often a challenge to apply it to real-world situations. It’s kind of like dudes with “beach muscles”: They hit the gym hard every day so they can look great on the beach. If they ever get into an altercation and actually have to use their strength, though, they fail miserably. That’s because they have no practical experience.

The same goes for theoretical knowledge in the real world.

We never learn about life in college. We don’t learn how to make or manage our money. We are not taught how to communicate effectively or be a leader. And we certainly do not get trained on how to create happiness and love in our lives. These are the valuable things we need to learn, yet we get thrown out into the world to fend for ourselves. So we have to take it upon ourselves to learn and grow organically after college.

The good news is there are plenty of programs, courses, and seminars that actually teach this stuff. But they cost money.

It’s this type of education that I am referring to when I say that young professionals need to invest in themselves. The notion that the stock market will set you free (in retirement) is only half right. It does not take into account myriad possibilities, one of which is that investing in yourself early in your career may be a better choice.

Let’s assume that you start out making $50,000 a year and indeed have a choice. Here are two simplified scenarios:

Option 1: You invest in a taxable investment account every year from the age of 25 to 50, starting with $5,000, or 10% of your first-year salary. Both your salary and your yearly retirement contribution grow 3% annually throughout your career. In year five, you’ll be making nearly $58,000 annually, and you’ll be putting $5,800 away toward your retirement. And assuming the investment vehicle has a 7% compound annual growth rate, you’ll have $350,836, after taxes, in 25 years.

Option 2: You take that initial $5,000 and invest in yourself every year for five years. You choose to attend various training programs covering the areas of leadership, communication, and other practical skills that you can put to use immediately. You gain life knowledge, allowing you to perform better and maybe even connect with a career about which you are passionate. As such, your income increases by 50% over five years — to $75,000 — rather than simply inching up by 3% per year to $58,000. Then, in year five, you start contributing about $17,000 per year to your retirement ($5,800 plus all the extra money you’re earning, after taxes). Projecting forward 20 years using the same rates for contribution growth and investment returns as in Option 1, you’d end up with $829,635 after tax.

After playing out both scenarios above, we can see that Option 2 leaves you with $479,000 more than Option 1 does.

Certainly, I have made a few assumptions — one of which is that you invest all your extra earnings in Option 2 rather than raise your standard of living. And there is no guarantee that by investing in ourselves, we will increase our income. However, this same argument can be made for investing in the stock market. The difference is that by investing in ourselves, we maintain control over that investment. It’s up to us to learn necessary life skills to excel at whatever we choose as a career or life mission.

On the other hand, when we hand over our money to the stock market, we give away that control, basing all results on historical averages. I’m a big proponent on focusing on what we can control. And, as young professionals, our biggest asset is our human capital, or our ability to earn income. Why not focus here first, and save the investing for tomorrow, when our cash flow is at a much healthier level?

———-

Eric Roberge, CFP, is the founder of Beyond Your Hammock, where he works virtually with professionals in their 20s and 30s, helping them use money as a tool to live a life they love. Through personalized coaching, Eric helps clients organize their finances, set goals, and invest for the future.

MONEY Second Act

How This Woman Turned a Layoff Into a $3 Million Business

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Sarah Wilson

After being let go from her retailing job, Heidi Rasmussen joined her husband to launch the health discount card freshbenies.

At age 15, Heidi Rasmussen began working in retailing, at the same department store where her stepfather put in 35 years. After eight years in store management and 12 years in corporate, Rasmussen had reached the rank of divisional vice president by 2012. Then, while she was out for a memorial service, she found out over the phone that she’d been let go—one of hundreds downsized that day. “Many people were just devastated,” says the now 46-year-old. “But that’s not my outlook. I’m always thinking, There’s something better.”

It took her a week to find it. Her husband, Reid, had already left his job as manager at an insurance agency to launch a business. His idea: Get insurers to offer workers discounts on expenses like prescriptions and urgent care. Struggling to get his concept off the ground, he appealed to his wife to apply her marketing brain. “I decided to transform the idea into an engaging brand,” she says. “It was a total step of faith.”

Working at full stride, Rasmussen came up with a card that bundles 10% to 60% discounts on vision and dental care with 24/7 phone consults with doctors and help with billing errors.

Employers who buy cards for their workers (typically $8.50 a pop) make up 90% of the business. Both the companies and their workers—who often get cards paired with high-deductible health plans—can save if an employee’s call to a doctor heads off an office visit. Likewise, pinpointing billing errors pays off for everyone.

Then she tested the pitch with 30 women she knew (women are behind 80% of family benefit decisions, she says). The group vetoed the name “concierge card” because “it sounded too hoity-toity.” Freshbenies’ original spokescharacter was blond, but Rasmussen made a switch to brunette after the group reacted negatively. And she learned that $12 was the most they could charge for their direct-to-consumer card.

Rasmussen expects freshbenies to bring in $3.5 million in 2014, up from $1.3 million in 2013. While the couple left higher-paying jobs, “that looks like a small tradeoff for the opportunity to work together on something that we love.”

By the Numbers

$82,000: how much savings they tapped to launch. That amounted to about 55% of her severance. About $25,000 went to a consulting firm that advised them to pitch to HR managers—a total bust. They had more success reaching out to insurance brokers who set up employer benefits.

2 years: how long they could have gone with no income. For their personal expenses, which came to $8,000 a month, they relied on the $350,000 they had saved, leaving their 401(k)s alone. “We were already very frugal and living below our means,” says Rasmussen, who lives in McKinney, Texas.

2016: when she hopes to triple revenues. In two years, Rasmussen expects freshbenies to bring in $12 million a year. The company is adding at least a dozen insurance brokers as clients every month. “Now that I’m starting to get in front of some really big brokerages,” she says, “I know they are going to want to work with us.”

MONEY Workplace

Why America Should Follow Japan’s Lead on Forcing Workers to Take Vacation

Japanese woman on beach
Getty Images/Flickr

Japan has plans to legally require its workforce to take a break. If only the U.S. would be so kind.

A law forcing you to take vacation days? Sounds like a bureaucratic gift, but in Japan, it’s meant as a workaholic intervention.

Legislation will be submitted in the country’s current session of parliament that will make it the legal responsibility of employers to ensure that workers use their holiday time. Japan has been studying such legislation since 2012, when a consensus concluded that the health, social, and productivity costs of Japan’s extreme work ethic were too high.

While it may seem crazy to Americans to require a person to take a vacation, we suffer from more than a touch of workaholism in this country.

In Japan, 22% of workers toil for more than 49 hours a week; in the U.S., it’s 16%. But in France and Germany, only 11% of the population puts in that many hours, according to data compiled by the Japanese government.

And when it comes to unused vacation days, we are second only to Japan among developed nations. The average Japanese worker used only 7 of the 18 vacation days allotted each year, or 39% of their annual paid leave, a survey by Expedia Japan found. According to a study by Oxford Economics, U.S. workers who had paid time off typically left 3 vacation days on the table. And if you look just at the 41% of U.S. workers who said they did not plan on taking all their vacation, the average number of unused days jumps to 8.

We’re also similar to Japan in another way: the percentage of workers who don’t take any vacation at all. A whopping 17% of the Japanese workforce does not take a single day of paid vacation, compared with 13% of Americans. Both of those figures are startlingly high in light of the fact that there wasn’t a single Australian in the Expedia Japan survey who didn’t take off at least one day in the past year.

Trending in the Wrong Direction?

While Japan is working on decreasing unused days, America seems to be heading the other way. Use of vacation days are at their lowest point in the past four decades, the Oxford Economics study found.

Fears of keeping your job, being passed over for promotions or lead projects, coming back to a staggering pile of work, or feeling like you’re the only one who can do your job all push Americans to stay at the office—or, when they do actually take a holiday, to do some work remotely. Employment website Glassdoor found that 61% of us have logged on while we were supposed to be logged off.

This shift can hurt us big time when you consider that employees who use more vacation days end up with better performance reviews, according to internal research by audit firm EY. Increased vacation time has also been linked to increased worker productivity, other research has shown.

Japan has another key piece of legislation that the U.S. lacks: It guarantees workers 10 paid days off a year.

Unlike most other countries with advanced economies, “the United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation time and is one of only a few rich countries that does not require employers to offer at least some paid holidays,” noted a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington think tank. Nearly a quarter of Americans receive no paid days off at all.

Considering that workers in the European Union enjoy—and use—a minimum of 20 paid vacation days and as many as 13 paid national holidays, it seems Japan isn’t the only country that could use a little legal help taking a break.

Read next: How to Disconnect From Work (Without Getting on the Boss’s Bad Side)

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