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Summertime blues: Put the cellphone down

As the summer vacation season draws to a close, many Americans are wondering: Where did the time go? To which the sad answer is: You spent it in the office — or you might as well have. Vacation as most workers once knew it is disappearing, as those who might otherwise be reading “A Game of Thrones” on the beach are instead suffering through webinars and Skyping into meetings. It’s a pity. Americans need to reclaim their vacation time.

That is, if they actually take it to begin with. Some workers, of course, get little or no paid time off. At the other extreme are the policies at some tech firms: Take as much time as you like! But not so fast. Even these firms’ employees don’t reliably go on vacation. Unlimited time off may even deter some employees from traveling, for fear of looking like slackers compared to hard-working colleagues. Traditional vacation policies that offer workers a few weeks off may not seem as generous on the surface, but do create an expectation that workers will take most of it.

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However many days off firms provide, their primary emphasis should be on ensuring that workers actually get a genuine break.

The vacation-poisoning ubiquity of e-mail and cellphones has given rise to a small cottage industry of so-called “digital detox” vacation spots, which promise travelers a real retreat. Still, it shouldn’t be necessary to travel to a cellphone desert for vacation to feel like vacation, and employers should update their policies to reflect a more holistic understanding of what time off means in a modern office. What technology has helped ruin, it may also be able to help fix: Where practical, workplaces could deactivate e-mail accounts while employees are on vacation.

Rescuing vacation isn’t just for the sake of workers. Employers should look on paid leave as an asset. Recharged employees come back with fresh perspective — if they can ever leave to begin with.

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