So, you’ve got some Paid Time Off (PTO) and you want to make the most out of it instead of waste it? The answer should be 100% yes- of course you do! Why wouldn’t you?
Life happens. You may have unused PTO at the end of the year and didn’t quite plan out how to use it. Or maybe you did go on a trip but you felt more stressed when you were away than if you had stayed home.
As a healthcare professional, you are predisposed by default to conditions like compassion fatigue and burnout. Of course, burnout cannot be cured in one single vacation, nor is burnout solely an individual problem (read more burnout facts here). However, respite is an essential part of replenishing yourself.
Quality matters just as much as quantity- it doesn’t matter whether you have three days off or three weeks off- what matters is HOW you spend your time off. Let’s get into our favorite tips on how to maximize your PTO.
DO YOU EVEN USE YOUR PTO?
As Americans, boy do we love to work. It’s no surprise that we spend a lot of time at work because work fulfills this deep psychological need of having purpose. We work more in the United States compared to other countries ( #shocker).
Other #NotSoFunFacts regarding work in the United States:
‒The Fair Labor Standards Act doesn’t place a limit on how much time an employee can work
‒There are no federal legal requirements for paid sick leave
-According to the International Labour Organization, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.
We live in a society that cherishes the American dream- work hard, buy the big home, SUV, have 2.5 kids and a picket fence…
… anddd of course, there’s nothing wrong with that! To each their own. Yet, the price at which our desired lifestyle comes at can come in the form of extreme and demanding job stressors that endanger your health.
WORK STRESS AND STRAIN
Familiar with this phrase?
“There’s never enough time to get everything done at my job.” – Everyone.
Job stressors are common stressors in adulthood, or ‘aDuLtInG.’ Research shows work even working 50 hours carries an adverse risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). (1)
Lack of social support at work either from your supervisor or coworkers is also considered a job strain because it indicates high stress and demands at work and low levels of control or reward. Lastly, job strain also poses as a risk factor for developing diabetes and other metabolic conditions (1).
To put it simply, the ideal long-term solution is a combination of reducing job strain and increasing opportunities to enhance job and life satisfaction and well-being. Since chronic work stress leads to the depletion of internal resources, individuals should gain more internal resources- like personal energies and positive mood- in order to recover from stress (2).
HOW TO MAXIMIZE THE QUALITY OF YOUR PTO
Enough with the horrors of working too much! Let’s focus on replenishment, shall we?
Research suggests that in order to maximize that PTO and make the best lemonade out of your PTO lemons, you must emphasize these four strategies:
- Psychological detachment
- Relaxation experience
- Mastery experience
- Perceived control during vacation
Although it may be tempting to check your emails, respond to work messages, or even call in, it’s best that you avoid doing so as much as possible. I attended a continuing education course on burnout once, and a woman in the room confessed:
“If I don’t check in with the [work] team and check my emails, I get so much anxiety when I come home from my vacation because the messages pile up.“
Can you relate to that?
Checking in is her way of keeping her anxiety at bay, even though she’s on vacation. Totally understandable. Yet, research will advise otherwise- psychological detachment has been shown to be one of the biggest factors that contributes to an individual’s recovery from work. Not being able to mentally detach from work can interfere with that much needed rest and recovery (4).
Interestingly, how people use their handy dandy smart-phones on a regular basis can have a spillover effect on how they use their phones during vacation time. In fact, many smartphone users have according to one study have formed habits, like checking information or e-mails repetitively, which will likely persist during that crucial rest and replenishment leisure time (3).
HOW TO DO IT
Effective psychological detachment from work leads to increased work and life satisfaction, positive affect, and work engagement, whereas poor detachment leads to high levels of psychosomatic symptoms, fatigue, sleep problems, burnout, and emotional exhaustion (4).
Detaching from work can look like not thinking about work and mentally distancing yourself from the demands of work. Resisting the urge to check into work will work if you consider these three strategies:
- Mindfulness and being intentional abut not compulsively checking your email while on vacation
- Mental reframing- will your workplace fall apart and crumble while you’re away?
- Replacement- instead of checking in like how you are used to, think about what you can replace that action with- this can be a quick breath work exercise, reaching for your book- or the easiest- being disconnected from WiFi (so you literally cannot access the interwebs).
It’s pretty obvious that you’d want to relax during your PTO, correct? Maybe some of your PTO must be used for other things, like running errands, working on home projects, etc. If you are planning any sort of trip or vacation, relaxing typically takes top priority. Pro tip: CheapCaribbean.com makes relaxing on gorgeous beaches across the Caribbean and Mexico memorable and affordable. #partners
What constitutes as relaxing?
Traditionally, relaxation looks like engagement in passive activities and pleasurable-based activities. In other words, a state of low activation and low tension that often results from low-effort activities.
For example, relaxation for me looks like going to a beautiful beach with a book and spend a morning or afternoon reading away.
A sense of mastery breeds confidence. When you ace a difficult exam, you feel a sense of mastery. Likewise, this is important in the concept of relaxing. A sense of mastery can look like doing things that challenge you, doing things to broaden your horizon, and learning new things (2)
Conservation of Resources Theory suggests that mastery experiences should support individuals to gain greater internal resources. Longer vacations might provide more opportunities for such mastery experiences.
How can you experience mastery while on vacation? You can reap the benefits of mastery through learning and participating in a leisure activity of your choice- swimming, golfing, surfing, skiing, crafting, painting, writing, dancing- the world is yours!
PERCEIVED CONTROL OVER VACATION
I can personally attest to this. I am a CONTROL freak (cough, Virgo) and I can relax when I have control. I love planning trips as much as possible, even though my husband plans the main logistics. As long as I can plan the fun activities, I feel good.
Control offers you a sense of autonomy, and can look like deciding your own schedule, determining how you’d like to spend your time, and feeling like you can decide for yourself what you’d like to do.
RAPID FIRE TIPS
We covered the basics to maximize the quality of your PTO- mentally detach, do things that relax you, gain a sense of mastery, and have some control over the planning. What are other tips so you can maximize that PTO?
Long vacations are great, but you don’t always have to go away for long or go far. You can opt for a staycation or set up your own recharging station at home. This is because there are four types of recovery:
- Micro-recovery (first minutes after work),
- Meso-recovery (10 minutes to 1 hour after work)
- Meta-recovery (1 hour to 2 days after work)
- Macro-recovery (more than 2 days after work) (3).
So take advantage of all your recovery opportunities wisely. Play local tourist, visit friends and family, or opt for a 4-day getaway (i.e. CheapCaribbean.com has a plethora of options!)
Plan vacations around the holidays. This way, you may be able to score some added PTO. In healthcare, it isn’t uncommon that you will work some holidays though, so plan strategically and plan ahead.
Take pictures now, post later. This a little trick that helps me stay mindful and in the present moment during holidays and trips. I will record Instastories and take pictures and save them instead of post them. When I get back to my hotel or Airbnb room, I will post my stories and/or main feed photos and videos. This way, I am maximizing my detachment and prioritizing my enjoyment in those ever fleeting vacation moments instead of being consumed by my phone and worrying if they actually loaded or not.
Don’t leave PTO on the table. Make the most out of your recharging time. Don’t self-sabotage your health by constantly staying plugged into work- you’re not doing anyone any favors, especially yourself.
(1) Schnall, P.L., Dobson, M., Landsbergis, P. (2017). Work, Stress, and Cardiovascular Disease. In C.L. Cooper & J. Campbell Quick (Eds.), The Handbook of stress and health: A guide to research and practice (99-124). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell
(2) Chen, C.C. & Petrick, J.F. (2016). Vacation recovery experiences on life satisfaction. Travel and Tourism ResearchAssociation: Advancing Tourism Research Globally. 29.https://scholarworks.umass.edu/ttra/2012/Oral/29
(3) Chen, C.C., Huang, W.J., Gao, J., & Petrick, J.F. (2017). Antecedents and consequences of work-related smartphone use on vacation: An exploratory study of Taiwanese tourists. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047287517714907Journal of Travel Research, sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.navDOI: 10.1177/0047287517714907journals.sagepub.com/home/jtr
(4) Toker, S., & Melamed, S. (2017). Stress, Recovery, Sleep, and Burnout. In C.L. Cooper & J. Campbell Quick (Eds.), The Handbook of stress and health: A guide to research and practice (168-185). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell