Vacation time: Use it if you've got it

Companies should encourage workers to take their vacation time; everyone needs a break

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Good news, everyone. I'm ordering you to go on vacation.

I know, I know, you're not sure if this is the right time. Things are busy at work. You might not take any time off this year because of the economy. You want to impress the bosses with how hard you work.

Shut up and take some time off!

According to a survey conducted at the end of last year by the workforce consulting firm Right Management, about 70 percent of U.S. workers say they didn't use all their vacation time in 2011.

As a time-off enthusiast, that baffles me. I understand the worries some have about the fragility of the job market, but if you're lucky enough to have a job that gives you paid vacation, that time belongs to you.

Companies should not only be OK with you taking vacation time, they also should encourage you to do so. We're humans, not robots. (If you're a robot, please call me. I've always wanted a robot pal.)

"Good managers are willing to put the 'human' back in human capital management," said Kevin Sheridan, author of "Building a Magnetic Culture" and an expert on employee engagement. "They're not viewing people as these little chess pieces that lead to higher productivity. People need time off, and when they come back they're refreshed; they come back with fresh eyes and fresh energy."

Sheridan's company, Avatar HR Solutions Inc., researched some of the reasons employees leave jobs. While pay and career advancement are common among them, about 40 percent of employees left because they felt overworked, a lack of work/life balance or too much job stress.

"You think of all three of those things, and they're very much intertwined," Sheridan said. "I'm a huge believer in the employer nudging employees toward time off, encouraging better balance in their work/family life. There's a proven linkage to new ideas and time off, to better performance."

This is another one of those workplace issues that confounds me. It seems logical for an employer to recognize that a happy, rested employee is a good employee. Yet we have many office environments that seem to place a premium on employees who are wholly work-centric.

Tory Johnson, CEO of Women for Hire, a national recruiting service for women, said she sometimes has to remind herself of the importance of time off.

"When I do, I come up with the best ideas, I'm so refreshed," she said. "It's the best feeling in the world, and you realize that with some distance you really and truly do re-energize, you come back better than before."

She believes the fears people have about taking vacation time are generally irrational.

"Out of sight, out of mind is probably overblown," she said. "Thinking that 'If I'm not there for a week they're going to boot me' isn't very realistic. The truth is, if you do a good job and you're good at what you do, you shouldn't worry."

One way to make yourself feel better about taking time off, Johnson suggested, is to follow a few simple steps.

First, try to schedule your vacation as far ahead of time as possible. Rather than just firing off an email request or filling out a form on the company's intranet, talk to your boss or manager face-to-face. Say something like, "I'm looking at these dates for time off and wanted to make sure this works OK with you."

"That shows you're taking into consideration your work obligations and presenting that to your boss," Johnson said. "I think that goes a long way."

When the vacation rolls around, don't leave your work in disarray. "Sometimes the inclination is, 'Oh, my gosh, they're not going to miss me so I'm not going to tell them where things are.' That will backfire," Johnson said.

Make sure the people you work with are well-informed about the status of your work and where important documents or files are kept. Put together a "cheat sheet" or short memo for co-workers who might be affected by your absence.

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