I’m not quite sure why I haven’t thought to write about this until now, but last year I cried in my boss’ office. Actually, the tears didn’t really start out in the office more like in the middle of the ER- with witnesses. There was no snot or blubbering, but there were definitely salty, mascara-smudging tears.
It was summertime and I had been steadily increasing my workload in the emergency department where I work as a nurse practitioner. It wasn’t a change I was looking to make. It crept up on me. I volunteered to pick up a little slack on the schedule here and there because we were down one nurse practitioner and it seemed like the right thing to do. Besides, who doesn’t like a little boost in their paycheck every once in a while?
So, I found myself this particular month with 19 shifts in the emergency department. This doesn’t sound like much but when you factor in the fact that shifts are 10 to 12 hours each and the fact that you must rotate between night and day shifts, that kind of schedule can get pretty exhausting.
One morning the emergency department director, who I get along with very well, asked how I was doing. But, instead of the obligatory “great, thanks for asking!”, I just stated to cry. With a shocked look on his face he walked me to his office to discuss the reasons behind my gloomy disposition all the while very uncomfortable (he is the father of 3 boys). His awkwardness made the situation slightly comical, one of those times where you are sort of crying and sort of laughing all at the same time.
I don’t plan on crying at work on a regular basis, and I wouldn’t recommend it, but sometimes you just can’t help it. In this particular case I learned a few valuable experiences from my breakdown.
It’s OK to Ask for What You Want
If you are a hard worker and well respected, your employer wants to keep you happy. Often, things that are a big deal to you aren’t a big ask to your employer. Too many times in my nurse practitioner life I have neglected to ask for what I wanted. When my boss learned that I was overwhelmed, overworked, and sleep deprived he had a few physicians step in to help cover the nurse practitioner schedule. It cost the company a little money but distributed the workload more evenly and everyone was happy. Speak up if you are unhappy.
Don’t Become Another Burnout Story
Taking care of patients is hard. It can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Working nights, weekends, and long shifts takes a toll on your body. Dealing with the bureaucracy and red tape of the medical system isn’t easy and hinders the chances of success when it comes to your job. The end result? Medical providers feel overworked and eventually burn out. My boss never knew, but at the time of this tearful episode I had begun looking for another job. I couldn’t handle the demands of my current schedule so I was going to give up. He gave me another option- work less. It’s not worth sacrificing your sanity for work.
You Can Still Be a Good Employee Without Sacrificing More Than You Want To
Too many nurse practitioners I talk to are frustrated about not leaving work on time, having increasing demands placed on them when it comes to patient load, and in general feeling like their work sucks away too much of their life. Yes, working full time is hard and takes sacrifice, but work-life balance is achievable. Set up your employment agreement so that you have a schedule and job responsibilities you are comfortable with. Then, excel within these parameters. Working hard and being a good employee doesn’t always mean working more, more, more.
Sometimes Extra Money Will Cost You More than It’s Worth
If you are paid hourly, you notice a difference in your paycheck when you stay late or agree to take on extra shifts. Or, if you’re like me, you may even take on a PRN job to earn some extra cash on the side from time to time. Eventually, however, working extra hours leaves you grumpy and exhausted. It negatively affects your relationships with friends and family. It leaves you neglecting even your own health. Earning money is important and there may be times in your life when you must take on additional work-related responsibilities to pay off debt, make a large purchase, or meet a personal or family need. But, don’t make overworking yourself a habit. Take frequent stock of the sacrifices you are making to spend.
My tearful episode taught me a few lessons and, in the end, turned out for the better. Next time, however, before I reach the verge of a mental breakdown at work I will gather the courage to ask for the things I need to make my job better.
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