Care For Your Team, Care For Yourself
It seems that there is a self-destructive behavior in society and definitely in vet clinics today to be part of the “too busy” cult.
A few months ago I started to feel the strain of constantly being busy. I was working 10-12 hour shifts without stopping and then often going home to continue work or doing CE.
Someone made a comment in passing one day that I was going to burnout if I kept going this way. I dismissed it completely. I was fine, I’d juggled everything this long why would I burnout. Burnout was something that other people experienced, not me. I loved my job and loved being busy. A few more months went by and I could feel myself getting frustrated by little things, pulled at all ends, and exhausted. I had been doing this for a few years and it was catching up on me.
I went home and started researching. I found an article in Psychology Today that summarized burnout being a state of chronic stress leading to:
-Physical and emotional exhaustion
-Cynicism and detachment
-Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
The article went on to detail signs that start as stressors and lead on a continuum towards burn out. Symptoms such as chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness, anxiety, pessimism, isolation, detachment, increased irritability, and poor performance. I was starting to display some of these symptoms. I knew that if I was feeling this way, it was only a matter of time before my team started to feel this way as well, if not already. We needed to make a change.
From my research, I found out how crucial it was to find a better balance and introduce positive changes in some of the following ways:
-Making a list of the areas that cause stress and then a way to modify the situation to reduce stress
-Saying “no” to taking on more commitments/responsibilities that others could do
-Delegating when possible
-Taking breaks to give mind and body a chance to recover
-Learning to unplug after work (emails, computers, phones, etc.) Socializing outside the professional group to provide fresh perspectives Resisting the urge to take work home
-Rewarding effort to change, not just outcome
I sat and thought about ways we could realistically make changes in our clinic to help counteract some of the daily stresses. Taking adequate breaks really stood out as a way we could make a positive change that would not only benefit us as employees but our clinic as a whole. It is far too common in our field to nurture this status symbol of being “too busy to take a lunch”. This is something that needs to change as taking breaks has consistently been shown to:
-Increase energy levels, motivation, productivity, and concentration
-Lower stress levels
-Decrease physical stress symptoms (headache, eyestrain, lower back pain)
-Reduce workplace injury
After my research that night, I wrote a letter to my team about the importance of having a work/life balance. I lead a very dedicated team of RVT’s and VA’s who, like many of us in this field,are perfectionists and very easily get caught up in making sure that every I is dotted and every T is crossed, which I absolutely love about them. But this also means that they are not happy leaving to take a break or leaving work on time unless absolutely everything is caught up and finished to a point that they are comfortable.
In my letter, I emphasized the benefits of taking a break throughout the day in order to help recharge our bodies and our minds. I asked my team to help make it a priority every day to switch off to assist in an area of the clinic, recover a patient, or help a vet in order to allow a chance for another team member to sit down (away from the treatment area), eat lunch, and unwind for 30 minutes. Furthermore, I offered options of alternative things to do on their breaks such as read a book, take a nap, go for a stroll, do yoga, or even color (with provided coloring pages and markers)! I stressed the importance of not feeling guilty for taking a break because we would all be helping one another each day to get the chance to do so. Lastly, I asked that we each try to leave work as close to ontime whenever possible. I wanted my team to know that I cared for their wellbeing as well as my own and that we would needed to work together to make a change. Our field can be draining enough as it is. Burnout is real and we need to take care of ourselves in order to offer the best care to our patients and have the best chance of a long and fulfilling career within veterinary medicine.