Pharmacists: Take Advantage of Paid Time Off


Those who have been putting off making vacation plans or taking personal days should think again.

Working in a pharmacy is a stressful job, so those who have been putting off making vacation plans should think again.

It should come as no surprise that the results of a number of studies show that time off relieves work-related stress and reduces the risk for conditions such as heart disease and hypertension. Results of the landmark Framingham Heart Study, the largest and longest-running study of cardiovascular disease, showed that men who did not take a vacation for several years were 30% more likely to have heart attacks than those who did take time off. And, women who took vacation just once every 6 years or less were almost 8 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who vacationed at least twice a year.

Surprisingly, employers in the United States are not obligated under federal law to offer any paid time off, so about a quarter of all American workers do not have access to this benefit. The Fair Labor Standards Act does not require payment for time not worked, such as federal or other holidays, sick leave, or vacations. Unlike Australia and European countries, where 20 to 30 days of vacation time is the norm, such benefits are matters of agreement between employees and employers in the United States.

Even though vacations may decrease burnout and increase productively, as health care professionals, pharmacists often leave some of our paid time off on the table out of guilt or because we ignore the use-it-or-lose-it rule set up by our employers. Pharmacists often think that time off will make us look less dedicated and replaceable, and we also sometimes believe that no one else can do our tasks while we are away.

Here are some ways to become less of a time off martyr:

Check with co-workers. Concerned that even an occasional day off will leave co-workers in a crunch? Learn their vacation schedules and take paid time off when there is adequate staffing. Those who do not get the time off they prefer can also check with co-workers about exchanging weeks. Perhaps that week was chosen randomly by someone else, so that person may not mind switching. Just remember to reciprocate the favor should the need occur.

Donate extra days. Unfortunately, hardships can exhaust co-workers' paid time off. Recognizing this has led a growing number of employers to allow co-workers to donate accrued vacation days to a general pool to be used by fellow employees. There is a general tax law concept that the individual who earns time off and has the choice to receive it as income (use the time) or donate it, is still obligated to pay taxes on it. Therefore, any leave earned by an employee and donated to another would be taxable income to both parties. The good news is that the Internal Revenue Service allows for exceptions related to major disasters and medical emergencies without negative tax consequences to the donor. Such altruistic programs create espirit de corps, enhance employee morale, and reduce absenteeism. Pharmacies that do have a leave-sharing program should ask their human resources departments to look this, keeping in mind that such programs must meet certain criteria specified by federal and state tax laws.

Plan early. Remember that having a scheduled vacation gives workers something positive to think about. Because of that and the fact that every workplace has its own procedures about when requests can be made to take time off, make requests early in the time frame set up by the employer to get the week off when the family plans to hit the beach. Of course, seniority probably rules in terms of the selection of days, so hold off on non-refundable vacation deposits until the time off has been approved. Those who do the time off scheduling for the staff, should make sure the process is fair. Provide employees with written vacation policies and procedures. Highlight the peak work periods during which vacations may be prohibited or restricted. If no time off will be given during a training on a new computer system or a co-worker's maternity leave, let everyone know ahead of time. If there are any conflicts with major religious holidays, discuss them to prevent misunderstandings or surprises.

Those who are new to a workplace and made prior plans for time off should discuss the situation before accepting the position. Otherwise, avoid taking time off until after the probationary period.

Staycation. For those who cannot afford a trip to the beach, Disney, or Europe, consider staying home and attending festivals, engaging in a hobby, riding a bike, spending time with family or friends, visiting local attractions, or even taking naps. A staycation can also alleviate the stress of finding alternative childcare when a daycare center shuts down at the end of August.

Take small breaks. If a week away is too long, try a couple of days. A 3- or 4-day weekend every couple of months can be just as rejuvenating as a full week and in some short-handed workplaces may make workers feel less guilty about leaving others with an increased workload.

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