Paid vacation is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, so gradually and insidiously that almost nobody has noticed.

As originally conceived, paid vacations meant that you were getting paid your regular salary whilst not actually working. For example, if you worked on an assembly line, somebody else worked your shift while you were on vacation and were paid (probably overtime) to work that shift. 

The same thing was true for office work. Three decades ago, you could take an actual vacation, because "I'll be on vacation then" was considered--by managers, employees, and customers alike--a perfectly acceptable excuse for delaying a project, not answering correspondence, or for being generally unreachable.

Today, however, office workers are expected to put in extra hours prior to their vacation (wrapping up projects, training subs, emailing clients, etc.) and then, when they return, are confronted with a mountain of work (hundreds of emails, overdue projects, etc.) that they're expected to handle in addition to their regular work.

Furthermore, office workers are also expected to check their email during vacation and generally be available to handle "emergencies." Unlike in the past, you're now expected to actually do the work (or at least most of it) before, during, and after your "vacation." That's not paid time off; it's comp time.

Comp time is extra time off that you get (usually by agreement with your boss) after you've put in really long hours, above and beyond the call of duty. With comp time, you've already done the work that you normally would have done during the time that you're taking off. Comp time shifts the work around ... You're still doing the work.

The same has now become true for so-called paid vacations. Paid time off is a casualty in the battle to create companies that "do more with less" and "run lean and mean." I honestly don't know any salaried employee in the private sector who actually gets true paid vacation. Instead, they get comp time disguised as vacation time.

For the time being, some blue-collar workers (again mostly the dwindling few who belong to labor unions) still get real paid vacations, but even that's on the wane as an increasing number of companies and industries embrace the "gig economy." Needless to say, Uber drivers don't get paid vacations.

What to do? Well, if you're already in the gig economy, you're basically screwed unless you can get a real job (which, admittedly, are getting harder to find.)

However, if you've got a salaried job that included paid vacation time, you can decide to treat your vacation as an earned benefit. If you've got a project, delay it for two weeks, for instance, rather than working extra hours to wrap it up early. Similarly, make it clear to your boss, your co-workers, and your customers that you're taking a vacation, not comp time.

Then absolutely refuse to check your email during vacation; instead, use this killer auto-reply message. Then follow through ... by deleting all the emails you received from the day you left on vacation to the day you returned. Essentially, what I'm saying is that you should expect, demand, and even force your employer to pay you for not working.

After all, that's what a vacation is supposed to be, right?