Take what you deserve.

I read a sad fact in the Eastern Pennsylvania Business Journal this week: Of 627 employees surveyed, 288 revealed that they did not take all their vacation time in 2010. That’s nearly half.

Whenever I was job hunting, the vacation benefit greatly influenced my decision whether or not to accept a position. I know I’m not alone.

Once on the job, I’d hear unhappy coworkers grumble about needing time off. However, it was apparent that the ones who complained most thought themselves too important be away, or they were fearful that someone would discover just how behind they were in their work. Of course, there ARE bosses who seem to make it impossible for workers to take time off, but I suspect that the 46 percent who answered “no” to the Right Management’s survey question – “Have you used all your vacation time this past year?”– did so out of insecurity, fear, and a lack of self respect.

On pay day, would you ever give back three percent? Would you think, “If I take all that money, my name might be included in the next round of layoffs.” That’s essentially what is done when a vacation benefit goes unused.

Meanwhile, we envy the European Union’s employment standard of at least four weeks paid annual leave, but you can bet that vacation benefits will never increase for American workers if we don’t start using the vacation time we’ve got.

Moments after reading the statistic, I learned that a colleague was diagnosed with a debilitating disease. She a vibrant, hard working mother. She could be any of us. It reminded me that we just don’t know what will happen after the next sunset.

Taking time for yourself amidst the worries and hardships of everyday life is crucial to your well being and your quality of life. When you step away from a situation like an overwhelming workload or insecure job, problems become clearer and easier to manage. Priorities and goals come into focus. You don’t need to travel or have an adventure planned. You can just sit on your porch and relax. Either way, don’t hand over a single chance to experience life away from the office. Make sure you take ALL your vacation days in 2011.