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Use It or Lose It: Reasons and Ways to Take Vacations From Work

Vicki Salemi

It's that time of year again. Yes, holiday distractions at the office are in full effect, as are year-end performance reviews and budget deadlines. But if you're looking at your pay stub, you're probably perusing those personal hours wondering how to not squander your unused and hard-earned paid time off (PTO). After all, that's technically equivalent to money in your wallet.

A recent Harris Interactive study conducted for the travel website Expedia.com found the typical American worker only uses about two-thirds of his or her vacation time. On average, we earn 14 vacation days per year and only use about 10 of those.

Whether you chalk up the reason to us being anxious about losing our jobs or fears that we're replaceable, in the end we end up shortchanging ourselves. Not only is the time off warranted, it's technically a reward to be away from the office and unplugged. Regardless of your own reasons for not using all the time earned, here are several reasons to begin vacationing:

1. Time is money. If you had money in a bank account with an expiration date and didn't deplete it, you would find that unsettling, right? Time shouldn't be any different. Unused vacation time that gets written off at the year's end is technically the same as lost money. If your employer were to pay out unused time if you were to resign, you would likely receive a substantial check. So, while you're an employee on payroll, why wouldn't you want to make the most out of the time earned?

2. Time off is a productivity booster. Have you ever noticed how clear your head is after taking a 20-minute coffee break or a brisk walk away from your desk? Time is there for a reason and the average of 14 vacation days per year isn't even that generous. Per Harris Interactive's survey, French professionals earned 30 days every year, on average, and used every single day.

3. Create small reasons to use chunks of time. Let's say you go away on a five-day vacation every year and utilize a few days to tack onto long holiday weekends. Or let's say you despise your job and want to leave days in your time bank for interviewing. If there's still a significant balance that you can't carry over to the next year or that will completely get written off, create PTO days on purpose. Or half-days. Staycations, if you will. Make a date with yourself to your local museum or try a morning yoga class at your nearby gym and then brunch at the coffee shop you never seem to get a chance to try. Life is short.

4. Plan ahead and live life. Even if your 2014 vacation plans seem vague at the moment, why not plan long weekends without knowing the purpose just yet? The clarity will come in due time. Remember the old saying, "Nobody will say on their deathbed, 'I wish I had spent more time in the office.'"

Vicki Salemi is the author of Big Career in the Big City and creator, producer and host of Score That Job.

This New York City-based career expert and public speaker possesses more than 15 years of corporate experience in recruiting and human resources. She coaches college grads individually with an intense Job Search Boot Camp, writes and edits the MediaJobsDaily blog on Mediabistro, and conducts interviews as a freelance journalist with celebrities and notable names. BlogHer named her one of the country's top 25 career and business women bloggers worth reading.

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