As companies squeeze more work out of their employees, a handful of employers are giving back.

Companies from Netflix to Best Buy are giving employees the power to manage their own schedules. Some are letting their employees take as much time off whenever they want, Bloomberg Businessweek reports: an indication that hard work and hard-earned skills can pay off even in an economic downturn, at least at some companies.

Unlimited vacation time has caught on particularly in Silicon Valley as a way for technology companies to hold on to highly skilled employees, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Companies offering unlimited vacation time include Zynga, Evernote, the Motley Fool, and some small tech startups, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Netflix helped pioneer unlimited vacation time in 2004, Businessweek reported. "Hard work, like long hours at the office, doesn't matter as much to us," Reed Hastings, Netflix's founder and CEO, told Bloomberg Businessweek in April. "We care about great work."

Unlimited vacation time doesn't mean workers can spend most of the year at the beach. Employers merely don't keep a running tally of days an employee has been out of the office. Employees are responsible for getting their work done on their own schedules.

Some workers take their work with them on vacation, according to MSNBC.com's Life Inc. Workers also need to make sure that coworkers fulfill their responsibilities while they're gone.

American workers do not take much time off compared to their counterparts in other industrialized countries. U.S. workers on average get 14 vacation days per year, compared to 28 days in Italy and 20 days in Australia, according to a survey by the travel website Expedia. U.S. workers on average also left two of their vacation days unused last year, in effect handing over $34.3 billion to their employers, according to Expedia.

The weak economic recovery is partly to blame: Workers are feeling pressured to take less time off in order to please their employers given the fragile job market. Only 65 percent of workers took a vacation last year, in contrast to 80 percent of workers in 2007, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.