NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The nation's workers are stressed out despite an improving economy and taking less and less vacation time, even though they need it to relax and recharge.
According to a November report from Towers Watson, "stress is the number one workplace issue" for employees, ranking ahead of issues such as obesity or inactivity.
Despite that, only 15% of U.S. employers consider stress-relief programs to be a top priority, the study states.
"Employees seem to be saying, 'Support me, pay me and direct me,' but employers are focused on other stress factors," says Shelly Wolff, a senior health care consultant at Towers Watson. "Stress has a strong link to physical health, emotional health, personal purpose and community -- all contributing factors to workplace performance. Employers that fail to understand employees' views on stress risk are diverting time and resources to fixing the wrong problems and, at the same time, alienating employees."
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That's where a second study comes in.
Despite all the stress and anxiety in the workplace, only 25% of all U.S. workers say they take full advantage of their vacation opportunities, while 40% of workers say they use a quarter or less of their eligible paid vacation time to get away from the office or workplace.
Those figures come from a survey from Glassdoor, a job search firm based in Sausalito, Calif.
Most workers can't even take a clean break from their jobs while away on vacation. Glassdoor says 61% of employees surveyed admit to taking work with them to the beach, mountains or other vacation destination.
Younger workers are especially antsy, with 20% saying they use vacation time to interview for another job.
"It's clear the word vacation among employers and employees doesn't mean what it did," says Rusty Rueff, a workplace expert at Glassdoor.
Rueff cites advancements in technology as the primary driver of the change.
"Before technology allowed us to be connected 24/7, we were more likely to have actually 'vacated' our work for a couple of weeks a year, but now, it appears one full day away is a luxury," he says. "While there is always work to be done, employees should be conscious of using time off they've earned to recharge."
Management should encourage staffers to take a break, as well, Rueff says.
"Employers should consider being more clear to everyone about what it means to be on vacation, actually let others be on vacation, and go beyond just encouraging employees to use time off," he adds. "Some real rest and relaxation will help employees return to work energized, ready to contribute and make them less susceptible to 'burnout.'"