There are a few reasons I started working for myself, but one of the main factors in my decision to go freelance was vacation time. At every job I had, I always needed more time off than was offered, and I would end up taking a week or more of unpaid time off — and sometimes I earned the ire of my bosses. But I know how important vacation time is to my mental health; when I work too much, I get depressed and anxious, and I end up doing lower-quality work. I don't see the point of forcing myself to labor away for another week when I need a rest if I'm not going to get much done during that time anyway.

Stingy vacation policies made me less loyal to the companies that offered them, because I felt like they didn't care about my health and real productivity. Why would they want me to work if I was exhausted and just taking up space at the office?

It seems like some innovative companies are catching on to what I learned in my 20s, as research has shown that not taking vacation time hurts employees, and ultimately, companies. We all need time off, and when people don't get it, they burn out. "Rest, relaxation, and stress reduction are very important for people's well-being and health. This can be accomplished through daily activities, such as exercise and meditation, but vacation is an important part of this as well," primary care physician Natasha Withers from One Medical Group in New York told ABC News.

With 60 percent of Americans feeling "vacation deprived," according to Expedia, it's high time U.S. companies and workers revisited the value of time off. After all, the U.S. is the only advanced nation in the world without mandated time off (and Americans take less time off than any other country). Here are two new ways companies are tackling this problem. 

Unlimited paid vacation: It sounds counterintuitive, but offering employees unlimited days off hasn't bankrupted the companies who have it — it has proved so popular that more and more organizations are now offering it. In fact, most of the companies that give this generous benefit are doing very well, like Netflix, Evernote, Gilt Group and Zynga. Netflix spokesman Jonathan Friedland told CNBC, "people appreciate the flexibility and do a good job of balancing their vacation time with those of others and the work we all aim to get done."

The idea is based on the concept that you can take as much time off as you like — as long as you get your work done. Most employees have no trouble balancing that, and being able to take time when and how they need it is a huge perk. It also recognizes that employees are human beings, not work machines, and some years may need more time (like following the birth of a child, to spend time with a sick relative, or get over a breakup) than others. You’re absolutely more productive if you maintain your objectivity.

Take a real vacation: Evernote's CEO Phil Libin not only encourages employees to take as much time off as they want, but he also gives a $1,000 bonus to those who take a full week at a time, so that people get a real rest and a significant break (which studies have shown is imperative to truly relaxing and lowering stress).

Full Content is a technology company that offers their employees $7,500 to take a week off — the amount is based on the costs for a family of four to take a trip someplace tropical. Full Content requires workers to fully take the time off to receive the bonus; no calls and no work is allowed during the vacation. 

As Brett Hurt, the CEO of Bazaarvoice, told Wharton's Work/Life Balance project, "When you treat someone you work with the way you, yourself, would want to be treated, with the ultimate respect [for their judgment] — when you follow through on the Golden Rule — that person will treat you, in turn, with such respect that you have to encourage them to go on vacation."

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Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Innovative vacation policies from companies that care
Some workplaces are recognizing the value of happy, rested workers and are offering new ways for them to take time off.