Taking vacation is [im]possible


Actionable steps to make stepping away from your veterinary clinic actually work.

Getty ImagesThere are plenty of excuses not to take a vacation at a veterinary hospital. It's more trouble than it's worth. I can't just close up shop. I work on production. … What's a vacation?

But vacations are possible with planning, says Jessica DeGroot, founder and president of Third Path Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to assisting individuals and organizations to find new ways to redesign work to create time for life priorities. She says stepping back from work isn't a luxury; it's essential to make you and your veterinary practice healthier and more successful. DeGroot says taking a vacation is an opportunity to see how delegation is working-or could work-at your clinic. So, don't spend a long weekend guilt-ridden and stressed. Frame it and plan it as a great way to measure delegation systems-because it can be. And here's the bonus: You actually get to take a vacation.

Start small and delegate

DeGroot says to ask yourself, "How well does my hospital run when I'm not there to observe it?" There might be some hard choices that need to be made.

It's especially hard to take a step back when you feel like you have no one to delegate to, but it's a chance to take a stark look at your team. A staff that can't handle you being gone for even two days may not be the staff you need. "There's a real opportunity to extend a weekend into a four-day weekend to see what happens," DeGroot says. "What can you learn?"

She says it may be difficult, but it will definitely show you the health of the delegation systems in place. And for a team who may be a little wary of the idea, DeGroot says to empower them: "In order to be healthy, we need a high-functioning organization even when I'm not here."

For those of you who still aren't buying it-who think the idea of taking a whole week off seems impossible-DeGroot says to start small. Take just two days off during a slow time.

"First thing to do is to plan a long weekend and talk to your team," she says. Clearly communicate your intent: "A month from now I'm turning off work and I'm not going to be back until Tuesday morning." She says it's OK to say you're doing this to take a step back in order to return happier and with a better perspective on the business.

But to take a successful vacation, where you actually get quality time away from work and can return ready to evaluate processes, DeGroot says there are essential steps to success:

> Give the team notice far in advance.

> Frame it as self-care. Tell them, "I need your help to turn off work."

> Engage and empower the staff. Involve them in the delegation required for you to be gone.

> Brainstorm with your team on how to make it work. "What are some of those unexpected things that come up? What could we do to plan for those?"

> Take time off when it's slow. Saturday may be the worst day to take off, so try Monday through Wednesday. When's the least busy time during the week?

> Block off time prior to leaving so nothing is left undone. It may be an hour each day when you don't have appointments to handle unexpected things so you can get out the door as planned.

DeGroot says the first time you force yourself to truly step back, completely unplug and take those two days for yourself will be hard, but it will get easier. "Think of [vacationing] as a muscle-it will get stronger and stronger," she says.

But what if you're not an owner?

As an associate veterinarian or veterinary team member, asking for vacation might not be easy-especially if your practice owner prides him or herself on the fact that they never, ever miss a day of work and don't think you should either. Jessica DeGroot, founder and president of the nonprofit Third Path Institute, says that tricky conversation is about relationship building. If that doesn't work, frame your vacation as good for business.

She suggests taking the clinic owner out to lunch to talk, for example. Start by emphasizing your satisfaction with the job and the great things you've been doing. Have a proposal ready-a plan of strategy. Go with, "I'm trying to figure out a way to take the following baby step to take a few days off." Present it as a pilot, a test, which will then be evaluated, to see if it worked according to plan. The goal is for you to come back more productive and to see whether the team can find better ways to perform.

"You just have to have some courage," DeGroot says. "You're going to do it and it's going to work out fine." Maybe even your clinic owner will see it's possible to take time off and do the same.

Unplug and unwind

DeGroot says once you have your team on board and have given them plenty of time to prepare for your absence, get someone on the "life side" to support you. Have a friend, spouse or partner prevent you from continuously checking your voicemail or email-truly unplug.

"There are other things to do besides work in life," DeGroot says. "And when work is constant, we actually don't think as well and we lose our creativity."

Plus, DeGroot says that forcing yourself to think logistically about not working all day, every day, will help you come up with smarter answers to nagging problems. In fact, she says it always seems to be that third day away from work-three days completely detached-when "boom," that great idea to solve a problem hits you.

For some, DeGroot acknowledges that completely detaching from work may be unrealistic or would simply add stress, especially during those first attempts at getting away.

"I strongly recommend turning off the computer, but if that's impossible, check email or voicemail once in the morning," she says. Block an hour in the morning or at the end of the day to take care of whatever has popped up that can't wait back at the clinic. That may ease the minds of your team members as well. "It may reduce stress to know there's that time [to reach you]," she says.

Ease back in and evaluate

When it's time to return to work, DeGroot says it's best to have planned time to evaluate and discuss what went right and what didn't with your team. It may also be worth blocking off time to catch up on emails and cases and to personally evaluate how things went in your absence.

DeGroot says it's essential to adjust each time you return in order to better train your team and yourself to be able take a more successful vacation next time.

"When you get smarter about this, you find out you actually get smarter when you get back to work," she says.

Click here to check out Third Path Institute's full vacation checklist.

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