Nations with generous vacation policies tend to have the happiest workforce.

When it comes to taking time off, American employees don't seem to know how to unplug. According to Project Time Off, 54 percent of Americans leave vacation days unused, and 26 percent say they fear appearing less dedicated at work if they take time away. It could be because the American culture celebrates drive, or because U.S. vacation policies are among the most lax in the world.

What are the Best Vacation Policies?

America has no laws mandating paid time off. Vacation is considered a benefit, not a right. With that said, 73 percent of civilian workers have access to paid vacation benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The average American employee receives 16 paid leave days and 10 public holidays for a total of 26 days off of work, according to GetVoIP, a cloud communication platform. Mexico has the fewest number of days off, with an average total of 14. The U.S.'s other neighbor, Canada, offers 19.

The countries with the most time off are Brazil and France, where the average employee is given 30 days of paid leave plus 11 public holidays. Malta, Iceland and Austria round out the top five, each giving an average total of 38 days off of work.

What to do When Your Employees are Global

If some of your employees are located around the globe, you'll need to adapt to the laws and customs of those countries. Rewrite your HR policies according to locality, covering holidays, vacation and overtime that are most appropriate for local country-by-country versions or riders, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) says.

For example, the European Union dictates that employees must be guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, according to Forbes. If you hire employees in another country, it's important to check their nation's laws regarding government-mandated benefits. Laws change frequently, so make sure you're current and compliant.

In addition to mandated vacation time, it's a good idea to consider the common voluntary benefits also offered in a locale. While that extra time off may not be required, keeping up with the area's norms makes you more competitive as an employer. A study by Fractl found that more vacation time was the third most desirable benefit when choosing between a high-paying job and a lower-paying job with benefits.

What you can Learn From the Best Policies

Time off and employee happiness is linked. Scandinavian, European and South American employers earned most of the top spots when it comes to job satisfaction and employer loyalty, according to a study by the employer branding consultant Universum. It's probably not a coincidence these are among the countries that offer the most time off.

Whether or not it's a law, there are benefits to offering employees a generous vacation policy. "We know that taking a break is extremely good for one's mental health," says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, adjunct professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, told Time. "It puts you in a different frame of mind, gets you out of your standard patterns and can give you time with family."

What are the best vacation policies? The ones that are used. Encourage employees to take their earned vacation. People who vacation regularly are two times more likely to feel satisfied in life, and 71 percent of yearly vacationers report feeling satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs, according to research published by SHRM. Communicate the importance of time off throughout the year to managers and employees. Not only will you create happier employees, you'll get a chance to take your own advice and take a break, too.

Tags: People Management and Growth Company Culture Employee Engagement and Productivity