Podcast #50

hedgehog eating food
“Lunch breaks are not only important for the physical and mental health of all workers, but are also vitally important for the health, safety and outcome of our patients!”
In the veterinary world working through your lunch break has become the ‘norm’. It’s so common to not take a lunch break that there is actually a culture of shaming or criticizing those that do take their breaks. People that force their breaks are considered lazy, rude, selfish, and generally not a team player. This is a more than a bit messed up!

Lunch breaks are not only important for the physical and mental health of all workers, but are also vitally important for the health, safety and outcome of our patients! Those critters you are taking care of NEED you to take your lunch break! And even if you don't think you do… you do too, especially if you want to survive long term in this profession!

Part One of this blog will go through the various aspects of why all staff, managers, employers, employees, bosses, owners, etc. should encourage, and even enforce, lunch breaks! It’s good for staff, it’s good for patients, and it’s good for business profits! And, we will discuss the financial value of your lunch break!

Part 2: HOW to Take Your Lunch Break will look at HOW to take lunch breaks. Whether you are a manager trying to get your staff to take their breaks, or staff trying to convince your boss to let you take your break, Part 2 has you covered!
Whate Does a Break “Look Like”?:
lady enjoying a cafe break
A true break involves a complete MENTAL AND PHYSICAL DISENGAGEMENT from work.
Not all breaks are created equally. A true break involves a complete MENTAL AND PHYSICAL DISENGAGEMENT from work. This means that you aren’t shoving food in your face, while typing up notes, answering questions, and doing that ‘quick consult’ half-way through. You aren't calling owners, you aren’t fixing up charting, you aren’t researching that case. You are turned OFF from work. If you aren’t turned off from work, you aren’t mentally breaking!

Therefore, the best breaks involve removing yourself from the building, and likely your co-workers (even if they are your work-wife!) as well.

“Small Talk” is not nearly as effective (and possibly not effective at all) as a break as either meditation, or PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation) exercises according to a 2010 study. This makes sense because with meditation and PMR, you are forced to mentally disengage from work, whereas with small talk- what do we talk about- work! No mental disengagement! Therefore, doing something, anything, that allows to think about something other than work, is what a break really is. This can be in the form of going for a walk, listening to music, reading a book, or going to the gym.

Therefore, both staff and managers need to ensure that lunch breaks are actually taken properly, and in a manner conducive to a brain recharge!
MENTAL VALUE of Your Lunch Break:
Amazing drawing of elephant, by @petpawtraitsbyem
Beautiful artwork by Emma Bottomley, showing the creativity that can be unleashed when you are in your best state. Contact Emma @petpawtraitsbyem or Pet Pawtraits By Em for custom artworks by this amazing veterinary nurse student!
Taking a break makes a massive difference on your mental well-being. It improves your sleep quality, decreases your stress, increases productivity, increases creativity, increases motivation, increases your ability to respond to client needs, decreases/protects against burn-out, not to mention lots of benefits to your physical health (less illness, less disease, better eating, more active, etc.).

This is not only due to just needing to have a break to allow the cortisol levels to come back down, but without a break you will suffer even more from decision fatigue! (To see more information watch my Webinar on Decision Fatigue.) This is when your ability to make decisions accurately, effectively, productively and safely, decreases with each subsequent decision you have to make. Breaks are somewhat ‘protective’ against this, and will recharge your ‘ego’ and ‘will power’, helping you make better decisions.

Koala napping in tree.
Taking effective lunch breaks improves your sleep!
And let’s just give a space here to comment on the fact that taking your lunch break IMPROVES YOUR SLEEP! Sleep is magic. Sleep is vitally important to so many aspects, if not every aspect, of your life. Getting a good night’s sleep is imperative for mental health, physical health, preventing/helping with burn-out, relationships, everything! So if taking 30min in the day to sit down, eat a meal, and rest your brain, allows you to get a better sleep- why not do it??

These mental benefits of increased motivation, creativity, productivity, efficiency… these will ALL help you enjoy your job, enjoy your career, progress in your career, have better relationships with your coworkers and managers/bosses and clients. You will have more energy to pursue things that spark joy and wonder, both in your professional and personal life. Your quality of life will improve drastically. So, overall, mentally and emotionally- the value of taking your lunch break is obvious!

And MANAGERS NEED BREAKS TOO. This means that as a manager, you need to understand that your ability manage people, manage staff, manage clients, make good decisions, involves you being mentally on the ball. You need to not only set an example, but mentally you NEED a break too, so take it!
PATIENT VALUE of Your Lunch Break:
Veterinarian with cute puppy
Lunch breaks are vital to providing the best possible patient care. You cannot care for your patients if you are maxed out yourself!
We are all in this industry because we love animals. We love all our patients, and we want what’s best. We also don’t want to mess up, we don’t want to be sued, and we don’t want to deal with client complaints. How do we do all of these things all at once… you guessed it… take your lunch break!

Taking a lunch break energizes you, and decreases the effects of decision fatigue. Decision Fatigue results in one either becoming paralyzed and unable to make an effective decision, or results in reckless decisions being made. Both of these are at the detriment to your patients. Taking lunch breaks also gives you the energy and patience you need to better address clients’ needs, which means better communication, which leads to better compliance (which equals better patient care) and less complaints!

So, if you won’t take a lunch break for yourself, do it for the critters that you have made an oath to protect and care for!
BUSINESS VALUE of Your Lunch Break:
cat sitting in front of papers with paw on face as if in distress from work.
Businesses lose immense amounts of money from workers skipping lunch, in the form of decreased productivity, staff turn-over, mistakes and reworking, poor communication, etc.
From a business perspective, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to accommodate clients (especially if you think of them as customers- see blog “Customers vs. Clients”) by fitting them in during a lunch break, or thinking that staff ‘should’ work through lunch because either you did it as a younger vet or a young owner, or work just needs to get done, or that’s just ‘normal’ for the field.

And if you don't pay for lunch breaks you might think, “Hey, if I can get 30min of free labour why not?”
if you do pay for lunch breaks you may feel that employees “owe you” that time and therefore should work through it if there is work.

But there are a LOT of reasons you shouldn’t have employees work through lunch:

In most places to have staff work through lunch breaks is not allowed. Whether they are paid or unpaid, lunch breaks are the employees personal time. This means that you cannot expect them to be in the building, let alone be working, answering phones, on-call, etc. Rule of thumb- if you can’t leave the building for a full uninterrupted 30min, it’s not a lunch break!

Skipping lunch leads to a multitude of negative consequences for staff including exhaustion, cynicism, inefficiency, irritability, decreased productivity, decreased motivation, worse sleep, and burn out.

COSTS CLINICS MONEY in the forms of:
- More sick days which leads to either paying more expensive locums, or working understaffed- further perpetuating problems.
- Worse communication with clients, which leads to more client complaints, worse compliance, worse client retention.
- Higher staff turn-over due to a negative and toxic work environment along with staff burnout.
- Inefficiency, mistakes and lack of progress which all prevents growth of both the medical and business aspect of your clinic, and leads to worse patient care which leads to worse client interactions.
- Increased ‘reworking’ of ideas, procedures and products- meaning time wasted, resources wasted, and effort wasted.

A 2011 study estimated that UK businesses are losing 50 MILLION POUNDS a DAY due to the consequences of staff not taking a lunch break!

- 83% of staff that get lunch breaks want to be an active part of the company. Veterinarians and nurses are some of the most dedicated, motivated employees can find, and if you can harness their energy, they will grow your business for you! A simple lunch break can get you massive returns in what staff will bring to your clinic in terms of education, energy, new ideas and services, and love, care and attention to your clients and patients.
- Positive and energetic work environment leading to less staff turnover. For more information on how incredibly valuable this is, see my FREE webinar on “Profitable Staff are Those that Value Themselves”.
- Improved patient care, less mistakes, fewer complaints, better client compliance.
- Less burn-out and more rested staff because they will have gotten a better night’s sleep!

Overall, staff that take breaks work better, happier, stay around longer, and lead to happier and more compliant clients, which leads to improved patient care, improved work environment, and improved profits to your business! Essentially, it PAYS to make sure your staff is taking lunch break!
FINANCIAL VALUE of Your Lunch Break:
cute puppy on beach
Lunch breaks, whether paid or unpaid, are TIME OFF. If you work through this regularly, you are essentially giving up the equivalent of 3 weeks of vacation time a year in personal time!
The juicy section you have been waiting for! Firstly, a lunch break whether it is paid or unpaid is your ‘time off’. It is time that your boss shouldn’t be able to ask you questions, you shouldn’t answer phones, be writing records, or looking up cases. Your brain should be OFF. It is ‘non-work time’. And yes, even if it is paid, it is NO WORK TIME! Unfortunately this isn't a sentiment that bosses may share, and you may need to pull up your state/province/country legislation to show them this is true!

This means that if you are working through your lunch break, which 73% of you responded on Instagram that do, you are working for free! You are working on your own time. It’s equivalent to you coming in for 30min on your day off, or starting 30min early, or staying 30min late. And I know what you are thinking… I do all of those things too! (well, stop it!)

So, what does this equate to? What are you giving away to your boss for free?

That lunch break you are working through equates to either:
- 130 hours a year you are working for FREE
- 3.25 weeks a year you are working for FREE (wouldn’t an extra 3.5 weeks vacation be nice?)
- 1.35 days a month you are working for FREE (doesn’t a long weekend a month extra off sound good?)
- 6.25% of your wage you are working for FREE (doesn’t a 6.25% raise sound good?)
Math Time:

For those that are wondering where these values come from, here’s my work:

30min = 0.5 hours
0.5hr * 5 (days/week) * 52 (weeks/year) = 130 hours/year
130 hours per year you are working for FREE!

130 (hours/year) / 40 (hours/week) = 3.25 WEEKS/YEAR
3.25 WEEKS a year you are working for FREE! Wouldn’t you like an additional 3.25 weeks vacation?

130 (hours/year) / 8 (hours/day) /12 (months/year) = 1.35 days/month
1.35 DAYS a MONTH y working for FREE! Doesn’t a long weekend extra/month sound good?

130 (hours/year) / 2080 (hours/year working 40 hours/week) = 6.25%
6.25% of your wage that you are working for FREE! Doesn’t a 6.25% raise sound good?
Whether you are paid for your lunch break or not, if aren't taking it, you are giving away your time, your energy, your emotional reserve. These are things you desperately need to stay in this profession!

And think about it, if you burn out and can no longer work in this profession, what will that cost you? Retraining for a new career takes time and money. Working in a non-professional setting will give you a lower income- maybe… And what about the doctors, chiros, massages and physiotherapists you are paying due to your poor physical health from being burned out? What about the psychologists and counsellors and medications you need to address your mental health due to being burned out? What about the money you spend on vices, and the health toll of those vices, to combat your stress at work? What about your personal relationships? Divorce is expensive, and stress and burnout at work will stress your relationships!

And worst of all, what about those that take their life due to burn out and stress?

It is simply not worth it, financially or mentally, to skip your lunch break!

See Part 2: HOW to Take Your Lunch Break for tips to ensure lunch breaks are taken!
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published February 3rd, 2021

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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