It's an old joke -- "No one ever says on their death bed, 'Gee, I wish I had worked more hours.'" -- but it never fails to elicit a few chuckles.

And in this country, some sighs of recognition.

About 57 percent of working Americans ended 2011 with unused vacation time, averaging 11 days, according to a Harris Interactive study. A fifth of the workers surveyed said they couldn't afford to travel, and almost 10 percent said that in today's job market, they were afraid to take time off.

But the bigger factor, said one local expert, is our priorities. "What Americans see as important and what is rewarded is individual achievement," said Trisha Stark, executive director of the Minnesota Psychological Association. "It's not [about] working well in a group, being cooperative, being healthy. It's achieving.

"There's a feeling that the only way to show achievement is to sort of marry your work."

Stark said it will take a "major cultural shift" to chase away this vacation aversion, which is starting to happen at, of all places, large corporations.

"The big companies are really addressing it because they see the costs of employees who are not at 100 percent. You're seeing more corporations giving flex time, providing a place to exercise," she said, "even having an on-premise dry cleaner so people can get their personal needs done so when they're at home, they're really at home."

But when we are at home, we're not exactly setting the tone for the next generation to take a different approach.

"We still raise our kids to achieve," Stark said. "When they come home from school, it's not 'How many people did you play with or talk to today?' but 'How did you do on that spelling test, or did you win your hockey game?'"