Leaving Work at Work: a Guide to Distancing, not Detachment
Is there any better feeling than walking out of work at 5pm and heading home for the day, knowing that there’s nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow to interfere with your evening? This is a feeling many 9-5 workers know well and it’s something that can go underappreciated if you’re in a position to leave your work at work every day.
For hospice professionals, leaving work at work isn’t always so easy. Sure, you’re not going to bring a patient home with you or sit up long hours into the night checking charts, but that doesn’t mean the burden of your day doesn’t follow you home to rest upon your conscience. The emotional toll of losing a patient might leave you feeling fatigued for days, while the fleeting memories of a person’s last words might echo through your head long past bedtime—whatever the situation, the fact remains the same: leaving work at work is tough when you’re a hospice worker.
The difference between distance and disconnect
In an effort to alleviate some of the stresses that can follow them home from the hospice environment, many caregivers tend to overcorrect in how they do their job, as a defense mechanism against stress and strain. They become distant with patients, so as not to form a bond with them; they become clock watchers who wash their hands and leave as soon as the clock strikes 5pm; they exert as little effort as possible in order to reserve their energy to live their lives.
As you can probably guess, overcorrecting can be as bad or worse than becoming too involved in your job. This is where it’s important to understand the happy medium that distancing can be—it’s somewhere between complete disconnect and being overly involved. Knowing where to draw your lines and how to protect yourself emotionally, while still delivering a superior level of care to someone in their final days, is invaluable.
Tips for leaving work at work
So how exactly do you leave work at work when it carries such magnitude? There’s no real definitive way, since it depends on you as a person, however there are some tips that can help get you started in the right direction to achieve the appropriate distance from work after you leave:
- Set clear boundaries: Setting clear boundaries helps to associate physicality with a work mentality. Consider this: you can think about work while at work, but as soon as you get in your car to go home, it should be a signal to your brain that you’re leaving the “work area.” Likewise, when you leave your home and get into your car, it should signal to your brain that you’re heading to the “work area.” This is a great example because a car can serve as a buffer zone as you transition mentalities from work to home and vice versa.
- Find a relatable outlet: Hospice workers need to stick together. Find someone that you work with regularly, who you’re friendly with, to talk about work with. Being able to get everything out of your system while you’re at work or in a work environment will prevent you from taking it home and trying to explain it to your spouse or friends, who might not be able to offer the same support as someone in a familiar position.
- Resolve conflicts or issues before leaving: One of the biggest things that will burden you after leaving work is the prospect of an unresolved issue or conflict, waiting for you when you return the next day. It’s enough to ruin anyone’s time away from work! Make sure that before you leave for the day, everything is in order and all of your affairs are sorted out so that you’re walking back into work the next day with a clean slate.
Being able to count on the above three things, as well as any other tricks for alleviating work stress that you find for yourself, will put you in a better position to separate work life from home life in a healthy way.
Work at work, live at home
In closing, remember that it’s nearly impossible to separate work and home entirely if you’re a hospice professional—there’s always going to be something that’s out of your control. The key to creating a healthy separation between work and the rest of your life is being able to make that distinction in your mind.
Talk to other hospice caregivers about what they do to leave work at work, try out your own theories and always strive for a balance of distance, without detaching or becoming too involved—whatever it takes to keep your batteries powered at work and your spirits up at home!