Karen E. Felsted
CPA, MS, DVM, CVPM, CVA
Take Charge columnist Dr. Karen E. Felsted is the founder of PantheraT Veterinary Management Consulting. She spent three years as CEO of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues.Read Articles Written by Karen E. Felsted
If you’re an overworked and exhausted practice manager — who isn’t these days? — issuing an ultimatum to your boss for time off, fewer responsibilities or more pay usually isn’t a great idea. However, that doesn’t mean you must accept the situation. You have options. The best way to not end up in such a predicament in the first place is to set expectations and priorities early in the relationship with your boss. Ideally, you would accomplish it during the job interview and through conversations soon after joining the team. It’s never too late. However, an experienced manager can start now.
During the initial interview, ask to see a copy of the practice manager job description and discuss it with the interviewer. In an independent practice, you might speak with the person who would be your direct supervisor. In a corporate practice, you might interact with several people, from the supervisor to a human resources representative.
Here are other tips:
- If a written job description isn’t available during the interview, discuss the specific responsibilities. Take notes.
- Ask for clarification if anything you read or hear doesn’t make sense. Chat about potential tasks not included in the job description. “Anything we want you to do” isn’t a reasonable answer.
- Talk about the number of hours you would be expected to work and the weekly schedule. Don’t be put off by a vague answer such as “As long as it takes to get everything done.” Instead, ask about the current or previous manager’s hours and whether the expectations changed overt time. How much overtime would you work, and how many extra hours do other team members clock? This is particularly important in a COVID-19 environment
- when many veterinary professionals work more than ever.
- Don’t be bullied into dropping the line of questioning through suggestions that you aren’t a hard worker or don’t sound dedicated to the profession.
- Don’t be disappointed by imprecise responses covering every situation, but you should get a general idea of the expectations.
- If you would be salaried and not eligible for paid overtime, ask about opportunities to take time off later if you put in a lot of extra hours.
- Ask about off-hours expectations. A recent Veterinary Hospital Managers Association survey found that 65% of respondents “always” or “usually” check their email outside of work hours, and 95% answer calls or text messages after they leave for the day.
Better Late Than Never
What can you do if you’re entrenched in the job and didn’t have the expectations conversation before accepting the position? Or the job changed? Talk with your boss now and be prepared.
Tips for a successful meeting include:
- List all the tasks that make up your job and the percentage of time you spend on each. Include after-hours work.
- Jot down the times you went the extra mile or put in additional hours to accomplish a project.
- Ask whether your performance meets expectations. You don’t want to be blindsided later and find out that you and your boss are going down different paths.
- Suggest any additional tasks you would like to take on and talk about why your involvement would be good for the practice.
- Discuss your hours if you are seriously overworked. Compare them with any conversations you had before you were hired or with written documents, such as an offer letter or contract.
- Propose a solution. No boss wants to be without one when hit with a problem. Solutions for an overworked manager might include eliminating specific tasks, delegating tasks to someone else, hiring additional help, reprioritizing the work or streamlining processes.
- Be calm and professional — no yelling, crying or berating your boss over how badly you’re treated. The goal is to find a solution that works for you and the practice.
- Be reasonable. If everyone is working more hours than usual, it won’t go over well to suggest that you shouldn’t. Instead, look for a compromise, an understanding of how long the situation will continue, or a future reward of some kind, such as time off or a raise.
YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?
Rejecting a superior’s ideas or demands is daunting for anyone. For example, you might feel compelled to say no when the practice owner returns from a conference with 17 changes you must implement immediately, or you’re asked to do something that’s plain dumb or even unethical. Unfortunately, the alternative is to give in, try to do more (and poorly), or give up and quit in frustration. Here are five tips for the successful resolution of an unnerving situation.
- Focus on win-win solutions. Bosses often prioritize their best interests and the practice’s. You need to look out for yours.
- If a request is suspect, don’t immediately jump in with criticism. Instead, ask what is driving the suggestion and why someone thinks it’s the best option. Have a respectful conversation. Make sure to organize your concerns in advance and clearly communicate them. Suggest an alternative.
- Schedule a time to meet with your boss uninterrupted and for as long as needed. Don’t hope to resolve significant issues on the fly during a crazy, busy day.
- Put things in writing before and after the discussion. Some people comprehend information better in written form, and your boss might need time to think about your concerns. Documentation ensures that no critical items are missed.
- Document the solution and share it with your boss. This step helps ensure that the two of you didn’t walk out of the meeting with different ideas, and it serves as a reference if problems develop later.