04/22/2014 12:50 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2014

Want to Be a Better Worker? Take a Vacation

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Recent research indicates that most American workers report not using all the paid vacation days they are given. In fact, 15 percent of American workers report not taking any of their allotted time off, at all. What is a frequent reason given? That people are too busy at work. I'm sorry, but isn't being too swamped at work the whole reason these vacation days are needed? Is this some sort of strange, grin-and-bear-it paradox? Being under too much stress to think about stress relief?

There are people who truly love their jobs so much that they honestly feel more refreshed at the office. More than 40 percent, though, report feeling stressed during a typical workday. And we're reporting working longer hours than ever before, too. The "I ain't got time to bleed or sleep in or frolic at the beach" folks are actually hurting others through the unhealthy precedents they set -- since those precedents help create the norm in any given office culture. And the more the norm is to ignore self-care and not take time off, the more uphill of a battle it is to request it -- making others who really need it less likely to do so.

Some people might fear for their job security enough that the terror of taking time off is real and understandable. If you're stuck in a toxic office, you can truly feel trapped. And I hope that you can find some healthy ways outside of work -- socializing, exercise, protecting your sleep, having creative outlets -- to make up for that lost vacation, while being on the lookout for symptoms of burnout. And for others, even taking days off doesn't seem to be worth it, given that they're not really going to be allowed to be truly off the clock with the way their bosses can still email them and expect a response, hour after hour.

But for some people, the concept of work-life balance and (gasp!) healthy living are too much like singing "Kumbaya" -- they think it's for wimps. (I'm looking at you, Cadillac). OK, have it your way. But maybe you can be convinced to take time off for a different reason -- like you're not as good of a worker without it or that unchecked stress can actually make you less efficient and productive. And quite frankly, it's costing your company a lot in health care. Simply put, a day off that gives you some true psychological rejuvenation may very well mean you make more of the workdays that you do have, and that you are productive in a way that the burnt-out coworker staring at footage of cats "singing" on YouTube because she can't bring herself to tackle another task -- or having to make repeated doctor's appointments for stress-related causes -- is not.

The next time you roll your eyes at someone because they're taking a vacation that's rightfully owed to them, you might want to think again. They might actually be better workers, in addition to healthier human beings. Perhaps they are the workers who should be held up as the role models. Those who think they're heroes by giving up vacation -- when in reality they're just not assertive enough to follow a policy that's in place for good reason, or they're not innovative enough to figure out how to make it work for their schedule -- I vote that they're the real slackers.

copyright Andrea Bonior, Ph.D.

Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist, media commentator, professor, and author of The Friendship Fix and the Washington Post Express's longtime advice column Baggage Check. Follow her on twitter @drandreabonior or Facebook.