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Take a vacation. Really.

Some companies set policies to encourage reluctant workers to take time off.

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 30, 2008

Rested: After receiving encouragement from his employer, Chuck Casto took his first vacation in seven years.

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Among all the people relaxing on the beach at Marco Island, Fla., earlier this month, Chuck Casto might have ranked as one of the happiest. And why not? His five-day trip with his wife and 7-year-old daughter marked his first major vacation in nearly seven years.

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"It was a great opportunity for us to recharge and spend time together as a family," says Mr. Casto, a vice president at CSN Stores in Boston, a Web-based business selling home goods. "The weather was good. It was just what we needed."

Casto's vacationless years began when he worked for advertising agencies. "There's no break in the action," he says. "You just keep going." He continued the pattern when he ran his own consulting firm for nearly four years. "When you're your own boss, it's very difficult to carve out time to take a break."

Now he revels in working for a company that actively encourages people to use their allotted three weeks of time off. "It's one of the strong benefits that everyone takes advantage of," he says.

Other businesses are sending similar messages. This month PricewaterhouseCoopers, a professional-services firm, kicked off a 10th-anniversary celebration with a day called "Take Your 10," urging employees to take their 10 paid holidays, as well as vacation. To emphasize the importance of time away, the firm distributed a booklet, "Rest and Relaxation: The Value of Time Off," to all 30,000 employees. The company's website also offers suggestions about how to use that time. Vacation has even become an issue on performance reviews.

"Managers would receive reports about members of their team who had stopped earning vacation because they had reached their cap," says Michael Fenlon, managing director of people strategy. "We wanted to change that and build a culture in which uninterrupted work-free vacations were more the norm than the exception."

For several years, Scott Stevenson, director of advisory practice at Pricewaterhouse­Coopers, did not take all of his vacation days. "There was almost a feeling of guilt when you took time off," he says.

Now Mr. Stevenson uses almost all of his allotted four weeks, some of it in half-day increments. Although he concedes that he still has "a twinge of guilt sometimes," he says, "I do credit the firm for having us talk about it more, and the need for it, and the value of it to the work we do."

Although staffing is tight at TripAdvisor, a website in Newton, Mass., the company encourages all employees to take their vacation. It even added four summer Fridays to everyone's holiday schedule. "The bosses are leading by example, promising to take them all," says spokesman Brian Payea. "Everyone gets a minimum of three weeks' vacation at the start, plus the new summer Fridays."

Go figure: vacations

14 Average number of vacation days US workers receive per year.

3 Vacation days they leave on the table annually.

31% of workers do not take all of their vacation days each year.

18% of workers canceled or postponed vacation plans because of work.

$65.5 billion Estimated cost savings for employers as a result of workers not taking vacation.

Source: March 2008 survey of 1,617 employed adults by Harris Interactive for Expedia