Of the many workplace benefits employees tend to crave, a generous paid-time-off policy frequently tops the list. Time off is important for a number of reasons -- it allows you to get a break from the grind, spend time with loved ones, and achieve personal goals you set for yourself.

But new data from HR software company Zenefits reveals that workers may not be maximizing their paid time off the way they should be. In a recent survey, 39% of U.S. workers said they feel guilty about taking time off from work because of pressure put upon them by their bosses, or because of the burden it creates for the colleagues who have to pick up the pieces in their absence. And 43% of employees don't feel right taking time off given their existing workloads.

Man sitting at a computer, holding his head and looking sad


If you feel guilty about taking time off at work, to the point where you just plain avoid doing it, you should know that you're quite potentially harming your mental health in the process. And that's reason enough to get over that guilt -- and get out of the office for a number of days.

You need a vacation

The longer you go without a vacation at work, the more you risk falling victim to burnout. Once that happens, your performance can suffer, as can your mental health on a whole.

That's why it's important to use your vacation days, and if you're feeling guilty about it, here's how to combat it. First, talk to your manager if you feel your boss is putting too much pressure on you to stay glued to your desk. Review your various assignments and deadlines, and set priorities so that you know which key items to focus on before and after you escape the office for a few days. At the same time, explain to your boss that taking a brief break from work might actually help your productivity improve upon your return.

Next, come up with a coverage plan so your colleagues aren't unduly burdened by your much-deserved absence. Bring your co-workers up to speed on what you're doing so there are no surprises. Then, divvy up coverage points among several colleagues so that the onus doesn't fall on a single person, or one or two people. Finally, remind your co-workers that when it's their turn to take time off, you'll be there to return the favor. You can even go the extra mile and take the people who will really be stepping up in your absence out to lunch as a thank you. If anything, it's a good way to sweeten the deal for them.

One final thing: The more notice you give your manager and colleagues about anticipated time off, the easier it'll be on everyone, yourself included. Therefore, plan your absences well in advance, and avoid the busiest periods of the year at work if at all possible. If you follow these rules, you really shouldn't have anything to feel guilty about when you put in your next vacation request.