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Brian Rose doesn't know what it feels like to go on vacation.

Since starting work at the Halifax Chamber of Commerce in 1996, he's taken no more than a couple of days off at a time. With an annual holiday entitlement of three weeks, that adds up to more than half a year of forfeited time off.

"I've never had a real vacation," says the 45-year-old director of sales and marketing at the chamber. "I've been like that for, geez, I can't even remember."

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There were those two days he spent at a cottage in 1999. But "I brought everyone with me [from work]down to the cottage. I had more meetings at the cottage than I do in the office," he recalls.

Mr. Rose is an extreme example of the significant number of Canadians who are leaving vacation time on the table, getting their rays from fluorescent lights in the office instead of from the sun beaming down in an exotic location.

A recent survey conducted for Internet travel company Expedia.ca found that 24 per cent of Canadians don't use up all their allotted vacation time. Canadians get an average annual three weeks of holidays but an average of three days a year go unused -- which adds up to about 40 million days each year, according to the survey.

Given an average $20-an-hour salary of a full-time employee, Canadians give back about $6.4-billion a year to their employers.

Even those who do book holiday time don't always take it. The survey also found that 23 per cent of Canadian will cancel or postpone their vacations due to work.

And then there are those who do take off but don't leave the office behind. Fifty-eight per cent of 270 Canadian chief financial officers recently surveyed by Robert Half Management Resources said they check in with the office at least once or twice a week during vacation; 24 per cent said they do so daily.

These numbers don't surprise Sandra Robinson, a business professor at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business.

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"Sure, you have three weeks, but nobody actually takes it, so there become these norms within the organization," she says.

Linda Duxbury, a business professor at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, says that people who fail to take their vacations fall into one of two categories: those who can't let go of their work and those who work for organizations that can't let go of them.

Mr. Rose is certainly among the former. For the latter, the pressures to keep on working get in the way of getting away.

"Many managers feel like it's impossible to clear their desk; if they do, they're letting down a whole bunch of people that they care about," she says.

Sometimes, finances get in the way of vacations. Some companies give employees the option of cash instead of time, says Beverly Beuermann-King, a stress and wellness specialist with Work Smart Live Smart in Little Britain, Ont.

While she thinks that sets a bad example, for many cash-strapped employees, the money incentive outweighs taking a break.

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No matter why people give up their vacation time, it's never a good idea, say the experts, adding that people do need a break to recharge their batteries.

"I think it's terrifying," Prof. Duxbury says. "We know that vacations are very necessary so you can relax, re-engage and re-energize."

Prof. Robinson agrees.

"The general belief is that we need holidays, we all need breaks. There is rejuvenation that comes with that and there are reasons why companies force people on holidays. There are reasons why there are laws on vacation. I think it's essential for our well-being," she says.

So how do you balance the worries about taking a vacation with the need to actually take it? Here are some suggestions culled from the experts for both employers and employees:

Mandate vacation time. Edward Buffett, chief executive officer of Buffett Taylor & Associates Ltd., a management consulting firm, says that, at his firm, employees must book time off by March 15 or face a visit from a supervisor. They must take at least two weeks off in the summer, he says.

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Set the date, make it a reality. Plan early, mark it on your calendar and sign up for time off as soon as vacation schedules are posted. "Make the commitment," says Sean Shannon, managing director of Expedia.ca. "When you book and pay for it, you're going to go."

Make arrangements that will work in your absence.

Inform key people well in advance of your upcoming time off and designate people you trust to manage major projects and daily responsibilities on your behalf, suggests Paul McDonald, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources.

He also suggests providing staff with clear instructions and letting team members know upfront what might require your immediate attention -- and what can wait.

Be disciplined in using technology. If you must check e-mail and voice-mail, set aside a specific time, and let others know. That way, you will avoid interruptions at other times of day, Mr. McDonald suggests.

As well, be specific in leaving out-of-office messages, stating who to contact in your absence and when you will return.

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If money is the impediment, look for bargains, go off-season or find a cheap way to travel -- just go.

Spread the word about the importance of time off. Even a small one-liner in a company bulletin or newsletter could emphasize the positives of vacations, Ms. Beuermann-King says.

Show leadership. Says Mr. Buffett: "You can't be telling your employees to take a vacation if you're not taking it yourself."

As for Mr. Rose, his boss will encourage him to leave the office at some point this summer. "I do get after him because I think we all need a break," says Valerie Payn, the Halifax chamber's president.

"What he's chosen to do, which he says he's going to do this summer, is, instead of taking a week or two off, he's going to take some long weekends."

At least that's a start.

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