Extra Mile Career Challenges Achieving Work-Life Balance in Your Veterinary Career
Taking care of yourself is not selfish; it’s a must to maintain emotional and physical health. Balance is the key!
What is work-life balance? Why is it important? Is my work-life balance the same as my coworker’s work-life balance?
These are some of the questions that a majority of workers in the United States ask themselves. Work-life balance is precisely that: a person’s balance between work life and home life.
It does not have to be an equal balance between the two. For some people, home life has more of a priority than work life. For others, work life equals a better home life. Whatever your definition of work-life balance, you, as a veterinary professional, need to find your balance before you burn out and leave a profession where you can make a difference.
Work-life balance in the veterinary world is tough. As a supervisor of a busy intensive care unit and emergency service with over 30 employees, students, and, of course, intensive patients, I have to admit it took me a very long time—over 3 years—to achieve that balance. Even now, I still have to make sure I keep it in check. It is also imperative to me to always emphasize my staff’s work-life balance as well. When my staff also knows the importance of finding and keeping an excellent work-life balance, it keeps them happy and far more productive. In turn, this creates less turnover and a more cohesive team. If you are a veterinary manager, I strongly encourage you to help your team find their work-life balance as well as to recognize the signs of burnout within the staff.
Unhappiness with your work atmosphere can bleed into your everyday home life. The best suggestion I have to help you prioritize and to find that compromise between work life and home life is to communicate. Communicate with your supervisor; don’t be shy. Your supervisor wants to ensure you don’t leave as much you don’t want to leave.
There are several ways to achieve the balance for which everyone longs.
Think of yourself first.
This can be difficult, especially in this profession. We are taught to always care for our patients, clients, coworkers, and bosses; now it is time to take care of yourself. If you can’t do that, you cannot take care of anyone or anything else. Take a relaxing vacation, get a pedicure, figure out what is most important in your life. Sometimes I take vacation days to sit on the couch and watch some guilty-pleasure reality TV. Whatever putting yourself first looks like, do this first to figure out your priorities.
Set priorities and goals in work and home life.
If you have a project that is due for work, set time limits for yourself. Try not to spend much time on social media or watching cat videos. The same goes for your home life; if you need to clean your kitchen because you have company coming over, don’t sit on your couch and take a nap. Once you complete your priority list, you will feel more relaxed and will have more time for yourself or your family.
Learn how to delegate tasks between the staff, and ask for help.
Another phrase for this is “work smarter, not harder.” I used to think that I could get my lengthy list of tasks done promptly and done right. The reality was that I would forget the details, forget some tasks, and not work to the standard of what I or my team had set in place. What I also failed to realize is that my staff wanted more responsibility; delegating some tasks to my coworkers gave them purpose and made them proud of the job they had done.
Remember that communication is essential in every aspect of life.
If you feel that you are having difficulty achieving work-life balance, talk to your superiors. Talk to your coworkers. Talk to your significant others. In reality, most hospitals want to keep their staff. If nothing is said before you feel overwhelmed, they don’t have the chance to help you before you decide to quit.
Know your limits.
If you have figured out how to work 60 hours a week and still uphold your personal life, I applaud you. For most of us, there is a limit to how much work we can handle. Do not go over that limit.
Learn to say “no.”
Do not become a doormat. My number 1 problem when I was a young technician was that I wanted to prove to my superiors that I could be there anytime they needed me. I said “yes” to extra shifts, extra projects, staying late, coming in early, and everything anyone asked me to do. I never had time for myself or my husband, and both my personal life and my work life were suffering because of it. I started to get sloppy at work and started making mistakes. Once I decided to start saying “no,” everything fell into place—and people at work still thought I was a great technician! I still picked up extra shifts to help my other coworkers while we were short-staffed, but not as often.
Put the phone down.
Technology has made everyone more accessible. Try to have periods of time with no phone, no computer, and no TV. Having face-to-face conversations with people in your personal life fosters better relationships.
Exercise, eat healthy, and get adequate sleep.
You work better when you have a decent amount of sleep. You sleep better when you exercise. You feel better about yourself if you eat a healthy diet. It is that simple. Although the occasional “bad day” sugar binge never hurt anyone, right?
Schedule time for fun. Take family vacations and unplug from work. Take that weekend getaway. Schedule an escape room with your coworkers. The more you get to know the people who are in your life, the more you can work with them.
Remember, everyone’s definition of work-life balance is different. Find what is best for you and stick with it.