By Bruce W. Francke, DVM
Years ago, I was embarking on a 3-year stint as a member of the nominations committee for my church. The committee was responsible for identifying, recruiting and placing suitable individuals in every position the church needed to operate. Most of these positions were volunteer, unpaid and a few paid. Very few people ever wanted to be on this committee, because it is really hard to get busy people to volunteer! The outgoing member I was set to replace said something to me that I have found to be quite insightful. He said, “Bruce, just remember that the majority of all the special projects in the Church get done by the same 10 to 15 willing individuals. “That” person will say “yes” almost every time you ask, out of a sense of duty, even though they are already far too busy! Your challenge on nominations is to go out and find NEW people, so you don’t burn out this core group! Oh, and good luck on that!”
My question to those of you who manage, are you fair to “that” person in your veterinary practice? How do you utilize the one who picks up the shift, stays late when needed or volunteers to come in early to help with a project? Do you take advantage of the one who picks up the phone when the caller id shows the number from work, who feels guilty the couple of times they couldn’t help your team when needed? How does it feel to be “that” person?
As part of my effort to make our animal hospital an important asset to our community and an enjoyable place to work, I belong to a management group called Uncharted Veterinary Conference. This is a community of unbelievably motivated and accomplished veterinary professionals who share ideas on all things involved in the day to day running of a veterinary practice. In addition to ideas, we often share policies, forms, questionnaires, etc., that we use in our practice and someone else might find helpful in theirs.
One of our members who works in a larger, multi-doctor practice was trying to identify a method to enhance the work-life balance of the doctors in her practice by identifying their comfort levels with staff communication during their normally scheduled day off or lunch hours. There were questions such as “can staff contact you on your day off or after hours about an emergency question about their own pet?” or “can staff contact you on your lunch hour if your client is having a problem?” or “can another doctor contact you on your day off or after hours to get clarification regarding a complicated client case that you know intimately?” The list was quite well-thought-out and extensive, encompassing a multitude of scenarios. Each doctor answered “yes” or “no” to each scenario and a chart was produced which could be posted and guide the team as to how to handle communication with each doctor. The chart graphically displayed green boxes for “yes” and red boxes for “no.” Some doctors had entirely green boxes. In other words, “I’m open to any type of communications at any time I’m needed.” Other doctors had several red boxes, saying “I’m open to communication about these specific things, but please don’t bother me for the other scenarios.” All of the doctor’s individual names were blacked out on the chart for privacy.
My initial thoughts about this chart: This is brilliant! Communication is key to an amazing veterinary practice, and now the team has clear-cut guidelines on how to contact each doctor in the manner that suits them! Let me be clear. I’m a great supporter of work-life balance. I want every team member to have a rewarding life both at and away from work. There’s a good possibility that every doctor on the survey is a rock star in some aspect of veterinary practice, and critical to the success of the hospital. A great veterinary practice is made up of talented people of all personality types.
However, I must admit that in the very next moment, whether right or wrong, my thoughts while staring at the graph turned to this: See the doctors with entirely green in their columns? They are “THAT” person! They are the ones who always say “yes” when you need them! They are the doctors who fill shifts when they’d rather be at the beach. They skip lunch to suture up the laceration. They show up 20 minutes early in the morning to help the practice manager whose cat vomited through the night. When the proverbial “shit hits the fan,” who you gonna call? I know who I’d be tempted to call. Yep, the doctors with the most GREEN in their columns. They will answer the phone. They will come in. The doctors with the most RED in their columns, most likely won’t get called. They are less likely to pick up the phone, screen their calls or just say no. I’m guessing that the team will soon quit trying to call them. It’s just human nature.
If these “all-green” doctors went to my church, they would have been one of the 10 or 15 people to take on all the special projects. The people who said “yes,” again, when the last three people you called said “no.”
It’s important to realize that there are some advantages to being “that” willing person. Among them are: The personal satisfaction of knowing you’ve given your all to your team’s important mission, each night when your head hits the pillow. You probably have achieved the utmost respect from those around you. You probably earn more compensation, due to your willingness to pick up shifts and work overtime. You may have an easier time climbing up the ladder as your management team recognizes your efforts. You will have more credibility as a leader when your nature is to be a servant leader.
There are also very important disadvantages of being “that” willing person. You may be missing out on fun times and interactions with your friends and family. You might have less time for your own pets and other hobbies. You may feel, at times, like you are being used by your team. You could develop feelings of resentment for other team members who don’t return the favor for your extra efforts. You might even experience symptoms of dissatisfaction with your profession or burnout.
They say that many hands make light work, but FEW hands make very heavy work for “that” person. Just like the advice I got from the outgoing nominations committee member all those years ago, I believe we have to be careful not to burn out our most willing team members.
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.