Most of us need little urging to get out of the office, but a significant minority — more than one-third of workers — never...

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CHICAGO — Most of us need little urging to get out of the office, but a significant minority — more than one-third of workers — never use all their time off.

They want to impress their bosses, they’re afraid something will fall through the cracks while they’re away or they simply can’t shake ingrained habits.

“It’s hard to turn off my phone, not read my e-mails, leave the Blackberry off,” said Angelynne Amores, media-relations director for Comcast’s Chicago region. “I’m afraid that if I take a vacation, I’ll come back more tired than when I left to a desk that’s piled high.”

Her last vacation? “I have to think,” she said. “My dad turned 70 in April. I took off two work days for his birthday.”

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Lean staffing, always-on technology, demanding clients and a hypercompetitive business environment make it tough to get away. Thirty-six percent of employees surveyed last year by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute said they didn’t plan to use their full vacations. Only 14 percent planned extended time off — two weeks or more.

Progressive employers are tackling the issue head on.

At PricewaterhouseCoopers, benevolent “vacation police” prod employees to schedule work-free breaks. The global accounting firm distributes guidelines for how to make uninterrupted vacations the norm rather than the exception.

It also drives home the point in managers’ performance reviews. A new measurement system will include a work/life balance score based partly on vacation usage.

Even when employees do get away, it’s not uncommon — especially for bosses — to stay plugged into the office. Thirty-eight percent of managers check in via phone or e-mail most if not every day while away on vacation, according to a recent survey by staffing firm Hudson, a division of Hudson Highland Group.

“For the last four or five years, there’s been an awful lot of stress on productivity, which is really needed because we’re in a demanding economic time,” said Mary Clark, executive director of Winning Workplaces, a nonprofit advisory firm.

“Insightful leaders understand that long-term productivity is much higher if employees take breaks,” Clark said. “There’s a built-in tension though, because everybody needs to get the work done.”

Ambitious younger workers such as Ben Kuikman, a 24-year-old marketing associate at Passport Software in Glenview, Ill., view vacations as unnecessary luxuries.

He’s taken three days off so far this year and he has no plans for an extended break even though he gets two weeks’ paid vacation.

“It’s more important for me to establish that I’m a reliable employee, that I’ll always be there and not be on weeklong vacations,” he said. “It’s a better investment for me to spend time in the office. The more time I spend at work, the more I learn.”

At PricewaterhouseCoopers, vacation was the last thing on Josephine Grimaudo’s mind in June when her boss stopped by to invite her to lunch.

“We have a few things we need to discuss,” he said, “particularly your vacation time.”

The 35-year-old senior manager hadn’t noticed she had maxed out on the number of unused vacation hours she’s allowed to accrue.

When she left on her last vacation, a seven-day winter holiday in Europe, she offered to take her cellphone and Blackberry.

“Leave it behind,” her boss told her. “Everything will be here when you get back.”