(AP) -- When family rights advocate John De Graff started doing some historical research, he came across a shocking discovery -- that medieval European peasants had more vacation time than modern American office workers.
De Graff, the national coordinator of Take Back Your Time Day, based his figures on the number of religious holidays peasants took off to eat, drink, and spend time with their families, and found it was about two weeks extra. He even printed up T-shirts saying: "Medieval Peasants Had More Vacation Than You."
As the economy falters and fewer employers give raises, it might be a good time for some American workers to negotiate more time off instead.
But that's not to say it will be easy. According to Rebecca Ray, Research Assistant at the Center for Economic Policy Research and co-author of "No-Vacation Nation," there is no federal or state protection to stop employers from firing employees just for asking for vacation time.
"The employer might not explain the reason for the firing, so its difficult to get accurate statistics on how often it happens," says Ray, who would like to see federal protection for employees.
Ray advises "talks about talks" in advance, to be sure the employer understands that any discussions on vacation should not be viewed negatively.
Employers should also know that a rested employee is a productive employee. Joe Robinson, founder of the Work to Live Movement, tells employers who hire him to improve employee motivation that research shows productivity goes up after a vacation.
"In the U.S., we have moved into a knowledge economy and the main tool is your brain. The best possible aid to that tool is a vacation," Robinson said.
There are a number of steps that workers can take to push for more time off without being asked to clear out their desk:
Under vacation pools, employees trade time off. One employee may take no vacation one year but double his time the next year by trading with a workmate.
Other vacation pools allow employees to lump their vacation, holiday and personal time in one, so that they are given a set amount of days off.
Edgar S. Cahn, the founder of TimeBanks USA, which promotes better quality of life, says that office pooling is an idea way for people to enjoy their allotted time off.
"It's a very creative idea," he said. "The company doesn't have to give the employees any extra time off and it allows office workers much more flexibility."
Suggesting it to a boss at an office meeting could give employees much more time off.
According to Robinson, mentioning to your boss that you are willing to go on vacation without any pay can often be a very effective way to get some time off.
"OK, so it's not ideal but if you want time off, it's the easiest way," he said. Robinson did this in his previous work in journalism and the music industry.
"If you can afford to do it, I'd recommend it. Unfortunately, many employees think it's a bit strange if they don't have their nose to the grindstone all the time, especially if they are funding the vacation themselves," he said.
Robinson advocates a non-combatitive approach, explaining to the employer why it's in his or her interests to give you a vacation.
Take what you get
It may seem obvious, but many people don't check how much time they are entitled to take off. Many others are reluctant to take the average nine days of paid vacation to which they are entitled, often because they are afraid it was show weakness or lack of loyalty.
Joe Robinson says that there may be "ongoing subtle discouragement" in the work force, but employees should remember than they are but entitled to their vacation and should not be afraid to take it.
In 2005, US workers collectively turned down a staggering 1.6 million years of vacation time that was offered to them.
Imagine if one person had all that time - it would take them back to the Tertiary Epoch, when saber-toothed tigers roamed America and Homo Erectus was still evolving in Africa.
If vacation time is limited and your boss won't budge, then recharge in the best way possible.
Robinson is concerned about the rising popularity of "staycations" -- lounging at home to offset rising fuel costs and the weak dollar. He believes those breaks are not as restful.
"Working the brain's neurons by taking up a challenging activity will leave you far more refreshed than sitting a resort doing nothing," he said.
He recommends activity vacations: hiking, canoeing, chess or some other activity that challenges the brain in new ways.