How to Really Go on Vacation

Nurses need support so they can unplug and recharge


As the COVID-19 pandemic enters a less frantic phase, nurses might be turning their thoughts to taking a well-deserved vacation. Never has it been more important to unplug and relax.

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“We all need a break so that we do not get to a breaking point,” says Meredith Foxx, MSN, MBA, APRN, NEA-BC, PCNS-BC, PPCNP-BC, CPON, Cleveland Clinic’s Executive Chief Nursing Officer. “Taking the time to refresh and recharge will only make you a better caregiver in the end.”

But some nurses, both at the bedside and in administrative roles, struggle with taking time off because they believe they are too busy or that taking time away is not truly supported by their supervisors. And even when they are away, some people have a hard time completely disconnecting from calls or email – which means they’re not getting the full physical and psychological benefits of vacation.

“No one can be their best at work if they are not taking care of themselves outside of work,” Foxx says. “There will always be work to do, tasks to accomplish. If we do not take time to step away, I believe it can actually be counterintuitive to doing our best work.”

With that in mind, it might be time to find some solutions to whatever hurdles keep you from getting the break you need. Foxx and Jill Prendergast, Senior Human Resource Director for Cleveland Clinic’s Stanley Shalom Zielony Institute for Nursing Excellence, offer some tips.

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Set yourself up to enjoy time away

Being comfortable going away is the first step in actually enjoying your time off. What can you do to get to that point? Prendergast says it starts before you leave.

  • Notify those with whom you work closely that you will be out and whether someone will be covering your duties in your absence.
  • If possible, arrange with a colleague to cover for each other for vacations and other time off.
  • Set up an out-of-office email response so people will know how long you will be out and who they can contact in your absence. Include a note as to whether you will be checking emails while you’re gone and how often. “This is really helpful in managing the expectations of others while you are away,” Prendergast says.
  • If you can check any small items off your to-do list before you leave, get them done. It can help you feel a little freer to enjoying hard-earned PTO, and you’ll be glad to have them done when you return, refreshed, to work.
  • Be the person who respects others’ time away, too. When your colleagues are on vacation, resist reaching out to them unless it is absolutely necessary.

Support for time off starts at the top

Nurse leaders are key in creating a culture that supports the use of paid time off (PTO). Foxx admits she does not always completely disconnect from work when she has PTO, but she limits email check-ins and is selective about responding.

She describes herself as a work in progress when it comes to disconnecting, and she knows it is important to her team. “As leaders, it is imperative that we role model this behavior,” she says.

Prendergast agrees. By not sending emails on weekends or while on PTO, leaders deliver the message that it is OK for their teams to do the same. Leaders also provide others with professional development opportunities by allowing them to take the reins when the leader is away.

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Finally, sending someone a quick email wishing them well as they head off for vacation helps boost morale and cultivate a culture that affirms the importance of wellness and rejuvenation.

“We all have to acknowledge that we can be unplugged at times – that we have others who can backfill for us,” Foxx says. “Taking time off is not a reflection of how hard we work, but an important element of self-care and being our best selves.”