By Bruce W. Francke, DVM
This article is part two of a two-part series. Read part one here.
I have a personal confession. I tend to be “that” person. That person who never wants to say no. Who is always willing to jump in and get the job done. I think lots of people in our profession are. I’ve always believed a person’s greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. You take the good with the bad. It’s the way I was raised. Growing up, I observed my parents doing almost anything for anybody, without complaint. The vast majority of the time, I too feel genuinely good about being of service in just about any capacity. For me to say “no” to someone requesting my help is nearly impossible. I would also be very unlikely to tell someone that I’m feeling inconvenienced or taken advantage of.
It’s taken me many years of owning a veterinary hospital to come to grips with this and find a healthier balance in setting boundaries. I’ve been dangerously close to burnout at times in my career. I have come to understand that this way of thinking comes at a cost for me and my family, and truthfully have respect and some envy for those who are better able to set boundaries. Does anyone really ever find the perfect balance? However, being this way myself helps give me an understanding of what we do to our most willing team members when we constantly go back to them when we have a shortage of needed labor or a crisis of some sort.
One of my colleagues raised the question, “Am I supposed to feel sorry for the person that always says “yes?” Should I feel guilty about their stress or burnout, if they are choosing to do it to themselves?” I think the answer to this is no. However, as managers, we need to care as much about taking advantage of “that” person, as we do about not respecting the wishes of those employees who have chosen to set firmer work-life boundaries. If some of our team members have personalities that make it very difficult for them to ever say “no” to our requests, is it best to just go to them EVERY time we need something? From a management standpoint, that’s low-hanging fruit! We run the danger of burning out our most-willing employees.
I believe there is a better, more systematic way to make sure that we share the burden of these unexpected, or after-hours scenarios. One that is healthier for the whole team and will reduce stress and turnover in the long run.
A good work-life balance can be achieved for ALL of our team members. We can take specific actions as a management team to make sure that we equitably share the workload, for the benefit of all. Some of the things we have done in our practice to share the workload include the following.
We have set up a morning on-call rotation for our doctors. Most of our team members start their workday about an hour before the doctors come in. It’s not uncommon that they will arrive to find a client in the parking lot, with a sick animal, waiting for the first staff member to arrive. If the case is serious enough, it requires expediting the arrival of a doctor. It used to be that the team would naturally call the doctor who was MOST likely to actually answer the phone. To solve this problem, we have a doctor on-call for each morning. If they get the call that they are needed, they are expected to arrive as soon as possible and to direct the team to the necessary actions. Don’t worry, we send someone to get them breakfast.
We have a schedule set up for after-hours, late-night pet care. There are one doctor and one technician assigned to each night of the week. They are responsible for checking on any patients that are hospitalized in-house. Often times, this only requires one individual, but if they need help, they call the other team member listed for that night.
We have a schedule for the manager on call as well. Our management team, for our 5.5 doctor practice, includes a practice manager, an assistant practice manager, two owner DVM’s, and an inventory manager. When staff has an issue that needs a manager’s decision, they will go to the member of the management team currently working, or whoever is listed for that day. This allows our managers to have a day off without being interrupted.
We use an online scheduling system, called Sling. When an employee needs to drop a shift, they can post it on Sling. Most of the time, another willing employee will pick up the shift voluntarily, without the manager needing to assign it.
In the event of a sick day or unexpected emergency surgery, every effort is made to try to help spread this equally among the team members. For instance, if a team member is scheduled to work on Saturday, they likely won’t be the one to cover that shift.
Each year, we post our staffing needs for all of the holiday periods. We let each department, figure out amongst themselves, how they would like to divide it up. We set aside time during their departmental meetings to do this. Management gets involved only if needed.
Even my business partner and I have assigned duties. He tends to be much better at setting boundaries than me, and this used to cause considerable friction in our relationship. At some point, we decided that if we were to have an effective partnership, we would have to each be responsible for specific areas of our practice. He takes care of doctor time-off requests, making sure that we have coverage when needed, and I research new equipment purchases. He makes sure that someone plows our snow and cuts the grass, and I do morning rounds.
Much of what we do in an animal hospital is unpredictable, we have to constantly adapt and react to whatever may occur during the course of our day. Every day we must make tough decisions on what needs to happen and who’s going to get it done. When we need someone to go the extra mile, the easiest and quickest solution is probably just to ask “that” willing person. They won’t say “no,” but is it fair to always do so? Do we run the risk of destroying the morale of our most willing team members? Could our tendency to do this be contributing to employee turnover? If we want to have a positive practice culture where each employee feels appreciated, we may have to give this a little more thought. Maybe we can simply structure our scheduling in a more proactive manner. A structure that results in a more equitable solution for all when the day doesn’t go exactly as we expected, the task at hand is daunting, or we simply need all hands on deck. These are just a few of the ways that our practice tries our best to not take advantage of “that” person.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Unchartedvet.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Bruce Francke is an Essexville-Hampton, MI native. He has been practicing at Bay Animal Hospital since 1993. He is a past member of the MSU CVM Alumni Council and a past recipient of the Bay County Humane Society’s Humanitarian of the year award. He enjoys all aspects of the canine and feline medicine with a particular interest in dermatology and internal medicine; including endocrine disorders and cancer medicine. His passion is to provide patients with access to state of the art medicine and treat clients with compassion and honesty. He is also the creator and host of the Unleashed Veterinary Podcast, available on Apple iTunes, the Google Play Store and Facebook.
Dr. Francke and his wife Leslie have 2 children, Kara and Tyler; 1 granddaughter, Marissa; 4 dogs, Ruger, Chase, Stella, and Bailey; and 2 horses, Eddie and George.