Europeans — long envied in the United States for their extended, paid time off from work — are facing austerity measures that might include shorter vacations. Meanwhile, American workers who have much less paid time off from their jobs, oftentimes, are choosing to forego portions of the vacation time they do earn. Americans left an average of 11 vacation days unused — or 70 percent of their earned time — last year, according to a study by Harris Interactive as reported by CNNMoney.

Our population quickly is becoming the “no vacation nation” for skipping vacation time to avoid a heavy workload when returning to work, refusing to spend money they don’t have to go somewhere on vacation and even to avoid losing a job amid the uncertain economy. That’s unfortunate, especially considering the stressed-out nature of many workers today.

More than 40 percent of employees say they are stressed out because of increased workloads and more than 75 percent say they are burned out, according to research by CareerBuilder. Not taking a vacation sounds like a recipe for disaster. Employers should ensure employees take needed vacation time. If they can’t go on vacation, at least encourage them to go home early on a Friday or take off on a Monday so they can enjoy the benefits of a three-day weekend.

Employees’ productivity generally slides in the summer thanks to various distractions, as evidenced in the CareerBuilder survey. It makes good sense to send employees on vacation to attend to the activities that are distracting them, so they can give those situations their full attention — and then return to work more focused.

Americans might not want to follow Europeans’ example of long vacations on the French Riviera, but they certainly ought to use the vacation they earn so they can come back to the workplace more energized and able to bring even more productivity with them.

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher