It's that time of year: The office becomes more and more empty as co-workers trickle out for vacation.
But maybe the office still isn't as empty as it should be.
A new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., found the United States is the only highly developed nation that does not require employers to offer paid vacation time to their employees -- and, as a result, about a quarter of American workers go without paid vacation or holiday time.
The average for paid vacation and paid holidays in the U.S. -- 16 days in total -- would not meet the minimum required by the 19 other countries analyzed in the survey, its authors noted.
But even when Americans do get paid vacation, they often don't take it.
"I think economists focus a lot on wages and incomes that people earn," said John Schmitt, an author of the study, "but there's another part of quality of life that's very important, which is your leisure time."
Workers in other countries have it much better, as far as vacation goes. Just north of the border, Canadians are required to get 10 vacation days per year, while some European nations, like France, mandate as many as 30 workdays off per year.
Looking to the Europeans who benefit from monthlong vacations, you might think the data reveal a cultural difference, or a disparity in work ethic: Americans could just be harder workers than the French.
But Mr. Schmitt, whose study is aptly called "No Vacation Nation," cautioned against arguments like those. After all, Americans were among the more fervent champions of the eight-hour workday back in the 19th and 20th centuries, and Germany -- which Mr. Schmitt said is stereotyped for its efficient workers -- mandates 24 vacation days per year for its employees, placing it high among the most generous nations.
Small business owners, most of whom probably set their own vacation policies, also find it hard to take time off. A 2013 American Express small business report, which collects information twice a year from small business owners nationwide, found that less than half of those surveyed plan to take a vacation of a week or longer this summer, down from 67 percent in 2006 and 54 percent last spring.
Alice Bredin, small business adviser to American Express, said people who are dedicated to their business' success have a particularly difficult time pulling themselves away.
"When things are slow, you don't really want to go away because you are worried about your business and you feel like you should be paving pavement for new customers," Ms. Bredin said. "When those problems go away, you end up with more money but less time."
Experts say time off from work is necessary for success in the office.
Michael Crom, executive vice president of New York City-based Dale Carnegie Training, said many people fear losing their employers' favor after using vacation days -- a fear that is generally unfounded.
"If I am tired and experiencing burnout because I haven't taken proper time off, then I'm not as good an employee and I'm much more likely to be laid off," Mr. Crom said. "When you're not productive and creative in your output, it actually works against you to not take that time off and become refreshed."
Mr. Crom and Ms. Bredin recommended strategically planning vacation days to avoid being absent when you're needed most -- and, above all, making sure someone else oversees your most important tasks while you're away. If you have to check in at the office, try to limit yourself to calling in once per day or less, Ms. Bredin said.
All in all, she said the biggest trap to avoid is thinking that a vacation necessarily has to be a week spent lounging on the beach in Barbados.
"Take a long weekend -- there's always time for a long weekend, I don't care how busy you are," Ms. Bredin said. "Really, you need just six hours without your phone ringing."
Daniel Sisgoreo: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1410 or on Twitter @DanielSisgoreo. First Published July 7, 2013 4:00 AM