Ask Shawn: My workplace is a zoo (really!)

Ask Shawn: My workplace is a zoo (really!)

Shawn McVey counsels a veterinary team member who's trying to balance her bosses' high expectations with her lack of resources.
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Jan 29, 2016

Q: I’m a veterinary support officer at a zoo. What’s the recommended ratio of veterinary support officers to veterinarians, nurses and keepers? I’m struggling under the weight of my department. It’s hard to know if I’m really struggling because the workload is too high, or if I’m just not right for this job.—Overloaded

Dear Overloaded,

Thank you for bringing attention to a common problem in all businesses—our propensity to want to do everything without accounting for our resources and what’s possible. We all have great ideas but we are failures at implementation. To specifically answer your question of whether it’s simply too much for one person I would need details about financial resources and expenditures. What I can do is give some guidance about how you should be allocating the resources you do have.

We need to create a treatment plan—I call it pathway planning—for you. Remember that most of us spend 80 percent of our day with actual operations duties we can’t neglect if we want the business to survive. So our time for improvements to the business is limited and must be tied to strategic objectives and a vision.

> Initial diagnosis: overloaded and can’t perform

> Prescription: Create a vision and mission and core values and allocate resources accordingly. Your biggest problems and opportunities should receive the most resources.

> Budget: 40 percent of revenue to labor costs, 20 percent of revenue to fixed costs, 20 percent of revenue to drugs and supplies and 20 percent for profit and practice improvements. Another way to look at this: fFor every dollar paid to a veterinarian you need four to five times that revenue to support her and the team.

This formula is for general veterinary practices, but the concept is the same for the zoo. In short, I can’t help you with where you need to go and how to get there until you know for sure where you are and what your resources are. There is no one formula for the right allocation. 

My gut instinct is that you’re perfectly competent. Good luck!—Shawn