A Nomad at Heart

A Nomad at HeartWe were very lucky to be able to go back “home” to visit my family for 3 weeks over the Xmas and New Years break. We all had the best time, filling a house with 7 kids under 8yo and 8 adults was not particularly low-stress but was very special at the same time. Nothing beats away the winter blues like Christmas on a New Zealand beach.

We were lucky for many reasons, not the least of which was having such an excellent, professional, hard working, independent and supportive team that I could leave the practice in their capable hands knowing that all would be well. To be honest, this is the longest I have been away in the short time I have owned the hospital and I was hoping it would all be OK but deep down I knew that it would!

I come from a country where 4 weeks paid vacation and 11 public holidays is the norm. I am a big believer in vacations making myself and staff more productive rather than less and that spending quality time away from work rejuvenates and excites you to come back again with new ideas and positivity – after the initial
end-of-vacation depression of course!

One of our practices 13 “General Staff Goals” is to: Take vacations! So many people in this country don’t utilize the precious few vacation days they are allowed, even though they may lose them if they don’t use them! There is vacation culture stigma that taking time away from work means you don’t care enough about your job or your patients that you would become dispensable or lose the opportunity for a raise or advancement and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Multiple studies have shown how taking time off (especially for low-stress travel) improves productivity, happiness, creativity and produces a happier atmosphere at work.

A 2013 study 1 by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that, “the United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacations.”

  • Nearly one-fourth of U.S. companies offer no time off. A remarkable 23 percent of Americans have no paid vacations and no paid holidays.
  • 10 is the magic number. The average American worker receives 10 days of paid vacation per year. European countries, by contrast, mandate that employers offer at least 20 days a year. Some EU countries have even upped the requirement to 25 and 30 days.

According to Projecttime-off.com 58% of Californian employees reported having unused vacation at the end of 2017

The landmark Framingham Heart Study 2 The largest and longest-running study of cardiovascular disease– revealed that men who didn’t take a vacation for several years were 30 percent more likely to have heart attacks compared to men who did take time off. And women who took a vacation only once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack compared to women who vacationed at least twice a year.
A study released last year 3 by the American Psychological Association concluded that vacations work to reduce stress by removing people from activities and environments that tend to be sources of stress. Similarly, a Canadian study of nearly 900 lawyers found that taking vacations helped alleviate job stress.
A 40-year Finnish study in the European Society of Cardiology presented in August 2018 4. The study included 1,222 middle-aged male executives born in 1919 to 1934 and recruited into the Helsinki Businessmen Study in 1974 and 1975. Participants had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, glucose intolerance, overweight).
Shorter vacations were associated with excess deaths. Men who took three weeks or less annual vacation had a 37% greater chance of dying in 1974 to 2004 than those who took more than three weeks.
A Professor in the study said: “In our study, men with shorter vacations worked more and slept less than those who took longer vacations. “

These studies all find that vacations don’t have to be extended breaks, even a short weekend away can provide significant work-stress recovery. Most studies also find that the best form of vacation for stress relief involves travel. The key is low stress travel – not exactly what I experienced over the holidays – unplug, no emails/calls/work questions.

The veterinary field unfortunately is overrepresented when it comes to burnout and death by suicide. It is important for us to continue to find ways to alleviate the stress we experience at work by reducing our workload, unplugging from work responsibility and improving our work-life balance.

For me in my practice 2019 will be a year where we will be rethinking how we manage staff time off and figure out how to adjust our own “vacation culture” to promote time away from work as a necessity rather than a luxury or something to be discouraged.

Hayden Webster
Owner Lodi Veterinary Hospital
Vice President: DVMA

{“To travel is to feed the mind, humanize the soul and rub off the rust of circumstance” Thomas Cook Excursionist – 1854}

1. http://cepr.net/documents/publications/no-vacation-update-2013-05.pdf
2. https://www.framinghamheartstudy.org
3. http://www.apaexcellence.org/assets/general/2018-work-and-wellbeing-survey-results.pdf?_ga=2.204037008.1635455859.1548831155-1115038354.1548831155
4. https://www.escardio.org/The-ESC/Press-Office/Press-releases/Take-a-vacation-it-could-prolong-your-life