I’m going on vacation — who’s with me?

By  July 9, 2012 • BenefitsPro

Thanks to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, we’re reminded that just because the economy may still be slumping, that doesn’t mean we need to hoard our vacation days.

After all, these aren’t ketchup packets or free saltines – they’re entitled benefits that employers tout as much as comprehensive health care.

It’s not because 15 years with no vacation will lead to a public meltdown (see video below), but by taking days off we’re actually doing the company a favor. According to the 2012 Aflac Workforces Report, stressed-out workers are twice as likely to leave their job as workers who aren’t stressed (43 percent vs. 25 percent).

Still, why do we ration paid vacation days like canned Spam after the apocalypse? According to CareerBuilder.com, the number of full-time workers taking a vacation fell from 80 percent in 2007 to 61 percent in 2011. Almost 20 percent of workers can’t travel because of money constraints, and 15 percent said they gave up PTO days because they didn’t have time to use them.

Thirty percent are still in touch with work even when they’re on vacation. And sadly, 23 percent of workers say they once had to work while the family went on vacation without them.

While workers have felt the pressure to keep up an ambitious image, their bosses have no problem with taking full advantage of the perk – more than 80 percent have taken or are planning to take a vacation this year.

“Managers may be more likely to afford vacations, but they should still be encouraging their employees to use paid time off, even if they are staying close to home,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder. “Workers who maximize vacation time are less likely to burn out and more likely to maintain productivity levels. Heavy workloads and financial constraints can make it difficult to get away from work, but even if you’re not traveling far from home, a few days away can have a very positive impact on your health and happiness.”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence those Vegas commercials are running as I get ready for work in the morning. A New York Times piece noted how the ad campaign is a reflection of our new “Occupy” culture, which has prompted a rebellious outcry from distressed workers.

Indeed, our work-life balance is decidedly asymmetrical. As we face threats to the robust benefits of yesterday, generous PTO could be as effective as cash incentives for workplace wellness. Plus, at the rate that health care costs are increasing, employers would willingly bear costs for employee absences versus claims costs due to stress and poor health.

Vacations shouldn’t be revolutionary, they should be expected. Kevin Sheridan, author of “Building a Magnetic Culture” tells the Chicago Tribune, “Good managers are willing to put the ‘human’ back in human capital management. 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.”