If you think that you're getting a few more "out-of-office" emails this summer than you did last year, it's not your imagination -- more American workers are taking vacations in 2012 than 2011.
The improvement, however, is marginal, and doesn't get us back to our pre-recession norms.
This year, according to job search website CareerBuilder's annual summer vacation survey, 65 percent of U.S. workers plan to take a vacation or have already done so.
That's up from 61 percent in 2011, but still way down from 2007, when, according to CareerBuilder, 80 percent of full-time workers vacationed. About 1 in 5 -- 19 percent -- say they aren't vacationing because they can't afford it, which is also an improvement over 2011, when 1 in 4 -- 24 percent -- said the same thing.
U.S. workers who decide to vacation this year are resigning themselves to shorter breaks -- this year, 17 percent of workers are taking a vacation of 10 days or more, down from 24 percent in 2007.
The same survey also provides more fodder for the 99 percenters out there -- while only two-thirds of working stiffs are taking a trip, 81 percent of managers and bosses are vacationing.
The CareerBuilder survey polled 5,000 full-time workers in addition to 2,000 people in management.
Jennifer Sullivan Grasz, vice president of communications at CareerBuilder, said that managers should encourage employees to use their vacation days, even if the employees are using the time off to putter around the house rather than travel.
Sometimes it takes some cajoling, though -- about 15 percent of those surveyed said they wasted their use-it-or-lose-it vacation days in 2011, either because they didn't have time for vacation or for other reasons.
"Post-recession, we're still seeing workers struggle with longer hours and heavier workloads," Ms. Grasz said. "People sometimes feel a guilt factor leaving the office."
But don't let that guilt get to you, she said. "They want you to take it. They want you to recharge your batteries ... [time off] not only benefits you, but it benefits the organization."
On the management side of things, a workplace ought to have its vacation policy in writing -- both to minimize conflict and to keep the company reasonably staffed, especially during summer months when everybody is taking time off.
Employees should be reminded at the beginning of each year how much notice is required for requesting a vacation, how conflicts are settled when several people want the same days off and how the company limits the usage of those vacation days -- such as a requirement that so many days be used before June 1, or restrictions during certain popular weeks, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Managers and employees alike should also be made aware -- well in advance, if possible -- of any major project deadlines on the horizon, so you can schedule around those dates, Ms. Grasz said.
That way, "you can actually go on vacation, and not be checking back with the office" every day to see how the project is coming along.
Bill Toland: email@example.com or 412-263-2625.