Taking A Break Photo

Taking Better Breaks

Evan Winter

At some point, even the most ambitious of us need a break. Taking time off from work has many positive effects on productivity and substantially aids in preventing burnout. For the United States workforce, three to four weeks of paid time off (PTO) has become the norm, but depending on the individual, that time is not always adequate in relation to hours spent on the job or volume of work performed. Furthermore, physicians and other high-functioning professionals often have difficulty utilizing their PTO, even when plenty is available to them. Combining Type A personalities with workplaces that are already difficult to step away from cultivates workaholic tendencies. For their own wellbeing, physicians must preemptively ensure they not only have available time off but also know how and when to use it.

Time Off is Negotiable 

When accepting a job, PTO is frequently leveraged in contract negotiations. Usually, a set amount of PTO is included in an offer of employment, unless the proposed work schedule is irregular. For example, ER doctors will sometimes work half a month of sporadic, long shifts and have the other half off. Hospitalists also work abnormal schedules, frequently following a seven days on, seven days off pattern. Regardless, physicians should take the proposed PTO into account with their schedule, salary, benefits, and other agreement terms when negotiating for what best fits their needs, goals, and lifestyle. It is important that they know how PTO is handled over time. Does PTO disappear at the end of the year? Can some be rolled over into the next year? Does the employer offer to buyout PTO at some point? These are all factors in determining whether offered PTO is fair, worth negotiating for more, or if it’s even beneficial to take less in exchange for a higher salary or other terms more favorable to the particular physician.

Know What is Needed from the Start

What is written into a contract will be critical to setting proper work/life balance for the near future, but physicians can’t negotiate for their ideal terms if they do not know what they want in the first place. Trading additional time off for a higher salary may seem beneficial to a determined individual, especially after receiving comparatively minuscule pay in residency, but generous PTO should not be so quickly dismissed. In a society increasingly obsessed with productivity, taking time off is becoming more difficult for workers to justify, even as avoiding it comes with negative side-effects. In a 2020 Medscape survey, 42% of physicians reported feeling burned out, and of those, 33% reported “spending too many hours at work” as a primary contributor to their burnout. A separate Medscape report showed that 33% of physicians take only two or fewer weeks of vacation time in a year. While neither of those statistics represent the majority, they remain a considerable portion of the physician workforce and are cause for concern.

Set Boundaries and Change Mindsets

Physicians frequently work long, hard hours and should have somewhat of a plan for recharging. Setting boundaries and maintaining a balance between work and the rest of life will stave off burnout, which has increased dramatically over the past year. Many physicians and other professionals also struggle with feeling selfish for taking time off. According to the U.S. Travel Association, Americans as a whole left 768 million vacation days unused in 2018. A change in mindset is necessary to maintain a healthy work/life balance and feel good about time spent away from the workplace. If the proper amount of time is taken to recharge and physicians are operating at their best, they will help patients more efficiently in the future. Some short-term “selfishness” results in long-term net gains for all involved. Simply put, everyone can be more helpful to society if they take steps to improve their own wellbeing first.

Make a Plan

Once aware of what can be negotiated in a contract, and committing to a new mindset surrounding time off, the best thing physicians can do is plan ahead. Much like any other goal, taking the time to make a plan and stick to it will help ensure vacation time is utilized and enjoyed. Physicians should find out what schedule and PTO work best for them and negotiate for a contract which accounts for those needs. Afterwards, scheduling vacation time in advance and arranging for other employees to step in once that time comes will both help reinforce that time off must be taken and free from regular work duties. Crafting the right contract, mindset, and overall plan for time spent away from work will promote better performance and make any job more fulfilling.

Paid time off and flexible scheduling are just a few of many contract items that can be negotiated. If you are a physician preparing to sign your first contract or renew an existing agreement, be sure you are securing the best terms for your unique situation. Resolve’s experienced healthcare attorneys can help identify any pain points and negotiate on your behalf for a more favorable contract. Visit the contract review page to learn more.