stress and heart disease

A resolution for 2012: Use all your vacation time

December 22, 2011: 11:54 AM ET

Overworked and under pressure, fewer people are taking the time off from work that they're entitled to. Here's why you should.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Planning to kick back and relax next week? If so, you're in the minority: A survey of 12,000 employees by office-space company Regus says that 64% of us will be conducting business as usual during the week between Christmas and New Year's -- traditionally a time when most people take vacation days, and many companies used to close down altogether.

What's more, toiling right through the holidays is part of a much larger trend: Last December, consultants Right Management polled U.S. workers and asked, "Have you used all your vacation time this year?" Fifty percent said they hadn't. When Right's researchers repeated the poll this year, that figure jumped to 70%.

The findings suggest that people who have jobs are anxious about keeping them. "Staffing is lean, workloads are heavier, and job security is uncertain," observes Michael Haid, a senior vice president at Right Management. "There's a lot of stress in the workplace."

No kidding. But if they're smart, Haid adds, employers will encourage people to take a break once in a while. "Vacation time is fundamental to a healthy, productive workforce," he says. "By itself, foregoing a few days off may not be significant, but when so many people think they shouldn't take the time they're entitled to, we have problems." These include "low retention, unnecessary turnover, absenteeism, frequent health or safety claims, and a host of other HR issues."

See also: When you work for yourself, can you take time off?

Let's say your employer is not so enlightened, or so far-sighted, as to urge you to get out of town (or at least away from the office). Here's a radical suggestion: Do it anyway. "Skipping vacations amounts to a $20 billion annual giveaway to U.S. employers," notes Lois Frankel, an executive coach who is president of Corporate Coaching International. "You wouldn't volunteer to give back part of your paycheck, so why surrender something that is just as much a part of the compensation you have earned?" More

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