James M. Berklan

Now that summer is over (face it, Labor Day ends it no matter what the solar system says), can you say your employer is one of the better ones when it comes to vacation and warm-weather perks, or one of the worst?

The experts are not overly optimistic.

Read on to see how you stack up. And remember: Some of this rests on your shoulders and the free-time choices you make (or don’t make). Caregivers can be some of the toughest when it comes to breaking bad habits.

The portion of companies offering the top two desired perks by employees — flexible working hours and early departure on Fridays — tumbled by 18% and 69%, respectively, over the last five years. In actual percentages, that means 62% of employers allowed more flexible hours and 20% granted early-out Fridays this summer.

In addition, 29% of employers surveyed said they allowed relaxed dress codes June through August — down from 57% in 2012.

The above figures come from a survey conducted by independent researchers on behalf of staffing firm OfficeTeam. Survey participants included 300 human resources managers and 380 workers at companies with 20 or more employees.

(So far, we’re doing well where I sit: We had early-out Fridays and always have casual Fridays and a none-too-strict dress code the rest of the time.)

Now to the heavy stuff: Vacation time.

According to a separate survey, 17% of U.S. workers — that’s 1 in 6 — said they didn’t use all of their vacation days by the end of last year. (Verdict: Guilty)

In addition, 1 in 3 (33%) said they didn’t plan to take any vacations this year. That’s actually better than the 35% who said the same thing a year ago. (Not guilty, on both counts.) These numbers come from an online survey of more than 3,200 full-time employees queried by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder.

Can you identify with this one? In the Harris survey, 36% said they had wished they had never gone on vacation after seeing how much work was awaiting them upon return. No wonder then that 18% said vacation time caused them to become more stressed.

What is wrong with us as a workforce?! (Though I must plead Not Guilty to both points in the paragraph above.)

However, when it comes to email … I’m ready for sentencing. Of those in the Harris survey who vacationed, 31% said they checked work email while away and 18% checked in with the office. (Split verdict for me: But I’m not revealing which way!)

So how did you do? It’s important to let some air out of the balloon with relaxed work conditions and vacations — not only for your own health and well-being, of course, but also for those who work around you. HR experts emphasize that team members need to know that, by your example, it’s OK to disconnect while on vacation.

Even if I lapse in some of these areas, I make it clear to those who work with and around me, they are expected to take full advantage of their options. And if I’m the one not on vacation, I try to be a good example by NEVER contacting someone on vacation, unless it’s a truly dire personal or professional emergency. Due to proper planning on managers’ and vacationers’ part, and a bit of luck, it hasn’t happened yet.

Which brings us to a few final recommendations from CareerBuilder. Set out-of-office messages on your email and phone(s) to let everyone know you won’t be reachable. If you plan to fudge on this policy, at least warn in your OOO messages that your response will be delayed.

Second, leave contact info on how to get a hold of colleagues who will be covering for you in your out-of-office messages. Then don’t forget to equip these colleagues with the knowledge and equipment needed to take care of any requests they might get on your behalf.

And finally, if you are going to break down and check email, restrict yourself to just once every few days, once a day, or once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Then turn off your cell phone and leave it off. Use a companion’s phone if you have to make a call or look up something on the Internet.

Your task now is to start planning for your next vacation. Don’t be among those not taking any, or leaving vacation days on the table. The end of the year will be here sooner than you think.

Follow Editor James M. Berklan @JimBerklan.