Why It’s Best to Leave Work at Work

We’ve all heard the phrases, “She’s a work-a-holic,” or “He’s totally married to his work…always at the clinic.” It’s easy to put those terms onto other people. “Surely that’s not me!” you say… “I know when to quit.”  But do you?  How many times do you justify checking emails or taking calls on your off-time?  Doctors and medical professionals already work a sometimes insane amount of hours in a matter of days.  For several reasons, it’s a really good thing to separate your work-life from your not-work-life.

There are dozens of ways for your work to follow you home, from patient emails to emergency phone calls to guilt to replaying the day’s events in your head. It can be hard to turn it off, but research suggests there is good reason to not let the worries and stress of your job edge their way into your free time and home life:

Knowing When to Quit = Smoother Recovery

Re-energizing after a long work day is essential; we all know this.  We tell each other and we tell our patients that a good work/life balance is needed for optimal health; we encourage our colleagues to take a break when we see them looking tired because we know – (especially in a teamwork environment that saves lives, takes care of the sick and deals with emergencies and critical conditions!) – that we need them to be in tip-top shape to get the job done well.  But why does this not extend to ourselves? It’s very easy for us to convince ourselves that, “I got this!” and that we are each individually above the status quo.  Really ya’ll, we are not superheroes, as much as we like to think we are.  We can do great things, and we DO great things, but not when we’re depleted and our batteries have run down.

It’s difficult to re-energize when we’re constantly checking into work-related tasks; studies show that those who can exhibit “work detachment” are much more able to cope with the daily stresses and strain of the day-to-day job.  “Mentally and physically restraining from work-related activities and experiences at home allows an employee to cease further taxation of resources (e.g., mood, time, energy) and provides opportunities to replenish drained resources…” states a journal article in Frontiers in Psychology.

Higher Work Engagement

As backward as it may sound, there is plenty of evidence that shows that detaching from your job can help make you better at it.  Taking time away, both mentally and physically, from your job fulfills areas of your life that are necessary for pleasure, personal development, social development, and reducing stress.  We all want to be good at our jobs, right?  Maybe the key to being GREAT at our jobs is not doing them all the time; maybe the key to success is engaging in leisure activities away from our work environment so that we’re able to be more engaged in our work while we’re at our jobs.  In a study posted in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, their findings concluded that: “Adequate recovery not only enhances vigor in the morning, but also helps employees to stay engaged during the next workday.”

Take Time to Eat Well for Better Performance

Food choice is a well-established indicator of nutritional health – we all know this.  In simpler terms, “We are what we eat.”  This should come as no surprise then that when we choose to stay at work late or work on our days off, and even when we bring work home with us, we don’t eat as well.  We tend to gravitate toward meals of convenience when our minds are caught up in work tasks, and that can mean anything from microwave meals to vending machine snacks to running to pick up fast food for a “quick bite” away from the clinic.

Studies show that people who are unable to detach from work-related activities report eating less cooked meals and more processed foods than those who are able to “work-detach.”  Interestingly, those who engage in post-work perseverative thinking also have issues with making healthy eating choices.   The take-away here is that you eat better when you make time to eat better.

Greater Life Satisfaction

As stated above, those folks who are “married to their jobs” are just that; they tend to not do so well in romantic/partner relationships and often do not play very active roles in their family relationships due to always being on the job.  This can often result from good intentions: wanting to provide well for your family or intending to save up money to pay off debts or to buy a bigger house, but at what cost? Any time away from home means time away from your family, and bringing work home with you just increases that strain on those relationships.  A study done in Brussels earlier this year found that the ability to detach from work will replenish resources that “…will contribute to and benefit feelings of marital satisfaction.”

What do all these things add up to? Research suggests that higher levels of self-detachment from work are associated with “…higher levels of significant other-reported life satisfaction as well as lower levels of emotional exhaustion.”  Basically this means that those who are able to keep work at work experience a happier, healthier, better balanced sense of satisfaction over-all, have more energy to output throughout their day, have better performance at their jobs, and help to prevent burnout.   

So what are you waiting for?  Turn off that computer and go get outside.  It’s a beautiful world out there and you owe it to yourself to get out in it!

5 Helpful Strategies for Preventing Physician Burnout

You know it, we know it, the entire world knows it. Even if you absolutely love your job, there’s no denying that being a physician can be one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Nearly 90 percent of physicians admit to feeling stressed throughout the course of a day, and another 54 percent admit to exhibiting at least one symptom of burnout. With these statistics in mind, it’s vital that you develop a routine that counteracts the pressure and anxiety that come with great responsibility, especially when that stress comes from the patients who may be less than amiable.

Try these five solutions for avoiding burnout before they turn your job from something you love into something you dread.

1. Listen to Your Own Advice

What’s the number-one recommendation you give to a patient who’s suffering from stress? Learn to take better care of yourself. This means eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly. According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, less than 5 percent of adults in America get at least 30 minutes of physical activity in any given day. And as a doctor, you can’t help your patients if you can’t help yourself. A physician who is in prime physical health and who is well-rested is far less likely to give in to the stresses of a bad day or to a patient who’s impossible to please.

2. Set Healthy Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are necessary in every area of life. Boundaries let other people know what sort of behaviors will and won’t be tolerated. They protect both the person who sets them and anyone who might otherwise be tempted to violate them.

As a physician, setting a healthy boundary might include refusing to spread yourself too thin. It could mean referring patients to colleagues when your caseload is full, or it could mean taking a step back from all the exorbitant hours you typically work and enjoying a day off here or there. It could mean taking an assertive stance with a difficult patient and refusing to cave into unreasonable requests.

3. Resist the Urge to Internalize

It’s your responsibility to treat difficult patients to the best of your ability without letting them rattle you to the point where your work suffers. Resist the urge to internalize any harsh treatment at the hands of an abusive patient because there are other patients waiting who need you at your best. Meditate. Practice yoga. Whip up a raw-fruit smoothie. Do whatever you need to do to de-stress throughout your day so that you’re able to keep performing at optimum levels, and so that you can continue to love your job. Don’t let one (or even ten) bad patient interactions sour you on your chosen profession.

4. Change Your Approach

In the now-famous words of Dr. William Osler, the first Physician in Chief at Johns Hopkins and a recognized expert on bedside manner, “It’s much more important to know what sort of patient has a disease than to know what kind of a disease a patient has.” Dr. Osler understood that, in order to do the best job possible in treating a patient, a physician first had to know what sort of patient he was treating.

The same holds true today. When you find yourself stuck in a roundabout with a difficult patient, and you feel the stress building, consider a different approach. Not all patients are created equal, and while it could be an underlying cause that’s to blame for the level of difficulty, it could also be your handling technique.

5. Embrace Your Limitations

You have limitations and there’s no shame in admitting that. You can’t function properly when sleep-deprived for days on end. You can’t physically do the work of five people. You can’t avoid negative people entirely. It’s not in your job description. You’re going to have bad days and encounters that shake you to your core. Recognize that the only part of this that you can control is your reaction to it, and then move on.

Dr. Mamta Gautam, writing for the American Medical Association, recommends recognizing what you can and can’t control about any given situation. “We focus on controlling and changing things around us, and from that perspective, appropriately, we feel we have no control. The only factor we control is us — our thoughts, feelings, expectations, behaviors, strengths and weaknesses. We must learn to identify what part of the situation is under our control, and focus on that.”

Embrace your humanness. Accept your limitations, and resist the urge to beat yourself up because you’re not made of metal. Realizing that you’re only human is a viable first step in lowering your stress levels. As a physician, you deal daily with people and situations that would destroy a lesser man or woman. Admit to yourself that giving your all is good enough, and then go forward in peace.

Physicians Feeling the Burden of ACA, CompHealth Study Finds

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has accomplished an impressive feat—since its implementation in 2010, nearly 17 million Americans have gained health insurance. The shift has, however, has flooded the healthcare system with new patients. The upside is that more patients are getting seen; the downside, according to a new study by CompHealth, is that doctors are struggling to keep up. Read more

Taking Breaks from Clinical Care to Avoid Physician Burnout

With approximately one-third of physicians reporting burnout at any given point, healthcare HR departments and physicians alike are seeking ways to alleviate the problem. Education and prevention strategies have proven helpful, but for more immediate relief from physician burnout, you may want to try taking regular breaks from clinical care, say experts. Read more