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More Americans using less of their vacation time

A new study says American workers are refusing to take time off from work, citing stress and fears of being replaced. Workplace expert Nicole Williams explains the study's findings and how you can take a break from work without putting the brakes on your career.

In this tight economy, vacations are getting squeezed. Americans are using two fewer vacation days than last year, according to a new survey. On top of that, they have two fewer to use, 12 down from 14.

"Fear of being replaced" and "too much work" were two of the biggest reasons respondents cited in the survey.

The global online survey, "Vacation Deprivation," was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of travel site Expedia from September to October, 2012 . The site has commissioned the survey annually since 2000. The survey was conducted among 8,687 employed adults 16 and over worldwide. The North American sample size was 500. It's available to read here in full as a PDF.

Career expert and best-selling author Nicole Williams told Savannah Guthrie this morning on TODAY that with "high unemployment people are afraid of taking that time off." 

Additionally, in America, there's a "sense of bravado around not taking vacation," said Williams. People brag about how long they've gone without vacation, taking pride in how much they've been able to punish themselves.

However, "vacation isn't a luxury," said Williams. Nor is it simply time you're "taking" from your employer. She said it allows you to "replenish, get more creative, and more able to produce." Sure you're out of pocket in the short-term, but in the long run it's better for your employer, and your career.

The key is to be smart about how you plan your vacation. Preparing the groundwork with your boss is integral.

Williams offered three big tips for making sure you're not a member of the "No Vacation Nation."

1. Scheduling is everything

Every industry has an off-season. Look at the calendar, mark up the best times for you and your employer, and go to your boss as early as possible so you both can plan for it. 

2. Prepare to relax

Try to get as much up-front work done as possible to clear your workload, even if it means putting in some extra hours or weekends in advance. Delegate, delegate, delegate. Pick a "vacation buddy" who will be your designated "go to" for your boss, clients and colleagues in your absence.

3. Return with grace

When you get back, don't complain about your jet lag or brag about how awesome your trip was. "You really want to keep it under cover," said Williams, to avoid stoking jealousy or resentment.

"Be polite, in other words," said Guthrie.