I asked myself the other day, what makes my job so enjoyable? Aside from the fact that I get to work with the animals I love, I have great co-workers, a facility I'm proud of, and a driven leader who pushes us to excellence. Lots of people have this. They work hard every day for long hours. And even though they love it, they burn out in a short period of time.
This is not a case of, "I have to stay." It's because they want to stay. Why? Because our employer believes in an under-40-hour workweek for every employee—and guards it. We are in at 7:20 a.m. and out by 6 p.m. on our scheduled shifts, and lunch hours are a protected entity. But perhaps even more important, our employer—and consequently, the entire team—respects the day off.
It shouldn't be that way. We should all work in a practice that values rested team members. My practice does, and I'm sure yours does too—but some leaders simply don't know how to make it happen. And even if they know something has to give, they have no idea how to get there.
1. Just do it.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? But every action begins with a decision to change. Perhaps you're thinking, "I'm the assistant or receptionist. I don't make scheduling decisions. What can I do?" You can decide to change. Encourage your team to get out on time. Say, "There are two hours left until the end of our scheduled shift. Let's push hard, dig in, and we can all get out on time."
2. Respect the day off.
If your co-worker is scheduled for a day off but you have a question, first ask yourself, "Can it wait?" If it can't wait for an answer, check within the hospital and medical notes to see if you can determine the answer from someone else. Perhaps they passed the case off to another co-worker. After checking with everyone else, as a very last resort, do you call the person on his or her day off? If there's a call for me on my day off, the caller is always super-apologetic, and the question is one only I can answer. This is either because I forgot to pass off the case, leave a medical note, or otherwise document what needs to be done next.
3. Value the vacation.
Your co-workers work hard to earn vacation time. So if you're a team leader or manager, how do you respond to vacation requests? You say yes, and you see to it they get that time off. Ask them where they're going and be excited for them. They'll come back to you happy and rested. Don't sigh and tell them you'll see what you can do. Take the request and work it out.
And as a team member, it's important to follow your hospital's protocols for requesting time off. Make sure you give adequate notice for your manager to make arrangements. And don't expect to be able to take impromptu mini-vacations at a moment's notice with no resistance. Give the respect you'd like to receive.
4. Have happy holidays.
As we approach the holidays, this can be a busier time in our industry—especially if you work in a facility with boarding. Respect that people have traditions and family events at Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and other holidays. Don't just schedule your team with a "deal with it, I have to cover the shifts" attitude. Remember, they love what they do, but they have lives outside your clinic's doors. Try this instead: Place a sign-up holiday sheet in the treatment area with the number of slots each day you need filled. Designate a technician, assistant, and so on, if you feel you need to. Then allow your team to write your holiday schedule for you! Let them know all shifts need to be covered and watch it happen. Your team members will be thrilled they had some say.
If you're not in charge of holiday scheduling, encourage team members to do their part to fill the holiday schedule. Keep positive with the changes and encourage others to do the same. An important note: Don't pressure people who aren't married or don't have kids to skip their own holiday celebrations to cover for others. It's important to respect everyone's need to celebrate holidays and enjoy time off in ways that are meaningful to them.
5. Practice sick-day success.
Sally, one of your technicians, called in sick. It's a busy day, so what do 90 percent of employers do? They call another employee on their day off to cover the shift. Don't do it!
"So what are we supposed to do?" you ask. "Work short-handed?" Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. It does two things: It shows the team how much it hurts when someone is out sick and causes them to think twice before they do that to their co-workers.
At our clinic we tend to have to send sick people home because they know it affects the team, and they know no one is being called in to cover. So they will even attempt to work wounded.
Of course, it's important to remember that you shouldn't come to work when you're genuinely sick and can't work—especially if you're contagious. Most people won't mind working short-staffed at your practice because everyone knows you're ill—and you will cover for them next time they're sick.
It also ensures that you're honoring step No. 2—respecting the day off. Does that mean I've never been called in on my day off? No. But it's been one time in six-plus years when a flu took down most of the team.
6. Get a life!
Encourage your co-workers to have a life. Do you know what your team members are interested in? Do you know who paints? Who runs? Who rides? Who reads? Do you ask about their interests? Do you encourage them to pursue them? A fulfilled person with a rich life is more pleasant to work with, and their presence creates a happier, more productive team. If you don't know what your co-workers are interested in, get to know them. Encourage your team members to be more engaging, interesting, fulfilled people.
Our boss recently sponsored six team members to pursue an interest together. He paid our entry fee into a 13.1-mile Diva Run. We had a blast, and he encouraged us along the way. Shared activities bring teams closer together, improve morale, and help team members come back to work rested and energized.
I love where I work. You can love where you work, too. Encourage your team to respect the day off, value the vacation, give over holiday schedules, learn to work shorthanded, and encourage team members to have a life. It's going to be an effort at first. But one day you'll notice a team member pick up the phone to call a co-worker with a pained expression on her face, saying, "I'm so sorry to bother you on your day off ... " And won't that be nice?
Julie Mullins is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and the team training coordinator at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. Share your tips on avoiding burnout at dvm360.com/community.