Both St. Patrick's day and Easter are over and you should already have your summer vacation plan well under way. Why?

And furthermore, why on earth would an HR columnist care one whit about your summer vacation?

Well, partly because I love vacation. It's a top priority for my family and me, and in fact, I've had our summer vacation booked since October.(Although, admittedly, we're just going to see the relatives, which makes it more of a summer trip than a vacation, but I digress. I mean, I love you, mom!).

But the real reason I focus on vacation is because I value employee engagement. Yes, it's true, my goal is to get as much work out of employees as possible and to make the employees happy while doing it.

Related Article: Your Employees Are Scared To Take Vacation. Fix That!

Seems rather evil, I know. But, let's face it, you have to work if you like to do certain things like eat, so you might as well enjoy your job.

And taking a good vacation will actually help you enjoy your job.

Americans Work Too Much

Americans have much less time off than other industrialized countries. Brazil and Sweden have a mandatory 41 days off (including holidays).

Finland comes in third place with 40. And even Lithuania has 39. How many mandatory days off are American employers subject to?

Well, zero. (Okay, some states and towns have mandatory paid sick leave, but it doesn't count as vacation when you're hanging out over a toilet bowl for most of the time, spring break excluded.)

The average American has 16 days off, which includes holidays. Not terrible, but what is terrible is that we don't use all of our vacation.

Yes, it's true. Americans have horrible amounts of vacation when compared to our pals in other countries and we don't even use all that we have. Forbes found out this shocking vacation fact

"Employees who left 11 to 15 days unused were less likely (by 6.5 percent) to receive a raise or bonus than those who used all of their vacation days. And employees who left the most paid time off unused were also more stressed than those who took more or all of their paid time off."

Think about that for a minute. If you leave your vacation days unused in some strange idea that you're helping your career by working extra hard, you're actually damaging your career.

Why on earth would you do this? Why would you work for 11 to 15 days for free?

Wait, you say, I get paid whether I take a vacation or not. Kind of. When you negotiate a job, you negotiate salary and benefits. Let's say they offer you a job at $50,000 with 10 days vacation and 10 holidays.

You take the paid holidays because the business is closed. But, you only take five of your vacation days. That means you're giving up almost $1,000 of free work to your employer.

That vacation time is part of your compensation package. You'd throw a fit if your boss waltzed into you office and said, "Hey, I realize we agreed on $50,000 a year, but I'm only going to pay you $49,000." So, why on earth do you give your boss free labor voluntarily?

Related Article: Unlimited Vacation for Employees: Does It Really Work?

Taking Vacation is Good for Your Career & Family

Taking vacation is not only good for your ability to do your job, but it is also good for your family relationships. Remember your family?

They love you and you want to keep them loving you. For that to continue, you need to actually see them. So, take a break.

Why should you plan now? Because not everyone can go the same day. People who have kids generally can only do vacations during the summer months when the littles are out of school, so everyone battles for the same few weeks.

Earlier planning means you have more of a chance of getting the days off that you want.

Additionally, if you plan now, you can sit down and think about what you need. Will you need time off at Christmas to go to grandma's house? Is your cousin getting married in October?

Have you not been home for Thanksgiving in five years and you'd really like to go? You need to plan out now before it gets late.

If you want prime vacation days, like 4th of July weekend, or the day after Thanksgiving, you need to plan now.

You need to take time off. Your brain needs a break. If your job involves a lot of physical labor, you need a physical break. You need to step away from the office to get a good perspective on things.

It's also helpful to the rest of the company to have everyone step out so that others can learn to be a backup for you. 

Time Off Equals Success

Years ago I worked for a credit union. In order to prevent fraud, every employee was required to take one entire week off with zero contact during that time.

No phone calls. No logging into email. Nothing. While this was a fraud detection measure, if someone else had to do your job while you were gone you couldn't hide money as easily.

But, it also had the advantage of cutting everyone off from work for a whole week. No phone calls and no email meant everyone came back truly rested and ready to get back to work.

Related Article: 6 Tech Companies With the Most Extravagant Job Perks

You need that. You want to succeed? Take your vacation time. If you can't afford to go somewhere, stay home and clean out your basement or do all those Pinterest projects you've wanted to do. (Okay, that might be more expensive than actually going to the beach.)

Just step away. Your family, your brain, your spirit, and your job will thank you.