Dr. Angela Beal is a full-time veterinary writer who joined Rumpus Writing and Editing, a veterinary copywriting company, in 2020 after practicing veterinary medicine and teaching veterinary technicians. She lives in Columbus, Ohio, and is looking forward to soaking up the sun on a South Carolina beach during her summer vacation.Read Articles Written by Angela Beal
Each June, my family and I pack up the minivan and head to the beach. I look forward to our vacation for months, as there’s nothing like the hot sun, lapping waves and a poolside cocktail to melt away stress and restore my inner peace. Then, I return home with new family memories and a brighter outlook on life.
Missing our annual vacation in 2020 was one of the most crushing aspects of the pandemic for us. It was the rotten cherry on top of a crappy year. Thankfully, we headed back in 2021, when COVID-19 concerns were less intense, and we plan to go this year.
Many people, your team members likely included, missed out on vacations during the pandemic. This year, however, your team is more than ready for a hard-earned trip. But are you prepared to handle the onslaught of PTO requests?
Put these best practices in place to ease the effects of your employees’ time away.
Summer vacation requests can sneak up on practice owners and managers, especially given the current busyness, so surviving the season without gaping holes in your workforce requires preemptive planning. Cindy Trice, DVM, the founder and CEO of Relief Rover, expects relief veterinarians and veterinary technicians to schedule assignments early and often this year.
“Relief vets never have a problem being booked up in this market, summer vacation or not,” Dr. Trice said. “Many relief vets are booking out three to six months in advance. People are tired of being cooped up by COVID. Everyone’s ready for their vacation.”
Whether or not you expect to use relief help, encourage your team to submit time-off requests as early as possible so that you have time to determine how to cover their absences.
Establish a Formal Policy
While letting team members figure out the vacation schedule on their own can be tempting, such a strategy can fall apart if disputes occur over prime weeks. A written paid-time-off policy is a must and should include:
- How team members will submit a request. A verbal request can easily be forgotten, so wishes should be submitted on paper or digitally.
- How far in advance requests must be submitted. One presented two weeks out will leave you scrambling to cover open shifts, so consider the appropriate notice period in your practice.
- How concurrent requests will be handled. Small practices likely can’t approve three requests for the same week, so decide how you will handle those situations. Many practices have a first-come, first-served policy.
- What happens to unused vacation time. Consider whether you will pay team members at the end of the year for their remaining PTO or whether it rolls over to the following year.
Simplify the Process
Software and apps can make scheduling and vacation requests easier for practices of all sizes. For example, at Alpine Animal Hospital in Pocatello, Idaho, hospital administrator Sydni Southwick uses Homebase, an app designed to handle scheduling, payroll and other human resource tasks.
“Any time anyone needs time off, they can go into Homebase and request it,” Southwick said. “We approve it through the app so that they know, and then they are responsible for putting it on the practice management schedule so that everyone knows who is going to be out.”
Larger practices might need a more robust system to handle time-off requests. With more than 30 emergency and specialty hospitals from coast to coast, MedVet uses Dayforce HCM software by Ceridian.
“[Team members] go into their portal and submit a request,” said Joe DeFulio, CVT, MedVet’s vice president of clinical services. “The request gets emailed to their manager, who is responsible for approving or denying the request.”
Fill Open Shifts Better
Every team member deserves time off, but that doesn’t change the fact that absences leave gaps in work schedules. So, have a plan for covering vacant shifts without expecting the remaining team members to spread themselves thinner.
“I worked at a six-doctor practice,” Dr. Trice said. “When we would take our vacations, the doctors who were still working would see the same number of patients as if we were fully staffed. With that many doctors, it felt like someone was always gone. We were always catching up.”
Strategies for covering summer vacations might include:
- Use relief help: Unless your doctors want to work extra hours, every hospital needs a relief vet, Dr. Trice said. “It doesn’t matter how many veterinarians you have on staff, because those vets who are working a full schedule need a break,” she said. “Relief vets are well worth the cost to maintain the sanity of your associates.”
- Offer additional shifts: Part-time team members looking for extra vacation money might want to work extra hours. With creative scheduling and advance notice, even full-time team members can sign up for additional shifts. Alpine Animal Hospital shifted to a four-day workweek, making covering time off easier. “Our whole staff has a day off during the week,” Southwick said. “So, a lot of people are willing to pick up extra shifts. It’s pretty easy to maintain the same capacity and not have to turn people away.”
- Hire seasonal help: MedVet’s original Columbus, Ohio, location is near the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Columbus State Community College, which has a veterinary technician program. “Many vet students are eager to get into the clinic over the summer and get more experience,” DeFulio said.
“I would say the same is true for vet tech students.” Even if you don’t have a large student pool nearby, part-time employees of other veterinary practices might want extra hours over the summer.
Build a Relief Pool
Instead of waiting until your team submits vacation requests, build relationships with relief veterinarians and technicians well ahead of time.
“Maybe you don’t have any dates on your calendar yet, but get to know [relief staff] and have them come in for a day of work, even if you don’t need it,” Dr. Trice said. “They are far more likely to say yes if they’ve worked for your practice and like the team and the culture. When you have that vacation, you’ve got a pool of people to draw on.”
Respect Everyone’s Time Off
No one wants to deal with work-related calls, texts and emails during vacation, so refrain from contacting your team members when they’re off, even if they are enjoying a staycation. Employees who fully enjoy their time away return refreshed and relaxed.
“COVID had a substantial impact on well-being across the profession,” DeFulio said. “We all need time to truly disconnect from the hospital and enjoy our time away. So, not reaching out to those who are out is super important.”
While figuring out what works best for your practice, don’t forget to plan your own hard-earned vacation. You deserve time to recharge, too.
SUMMERTIME CLIENT COMMUNICATION
The summer months present endless opportunities to educate pet owners about safety and health issues. But with team members on vacation, you might have little time to implement a promotion calendar. No problem! Use this guide to summer promotions to make communications more efficient.
As summer ramps up, so do pet parasites, making June the perfect time to promote flea, tick and heartworm prevention. Share parasite education and prevention tips through your social media channels, blog posts and e-newsletter.
Time-saving tip: Schedule promotional emails and texts well in advance so that timely material isn’t forgotten on busy days at the practice.
Also: With July Fourth around the corner, June is the time to educate clients about fireworks safety, noise aversion and the importance of microchipping.
As temperatures rise, so does the risk of heat-related illnesses. Make clients aware of the dangers of heat exhaustion and heatstroke, especially for susceptible pets such as brachycephalic breeds, obese pets and elderly animals.
Time-saving tip: You might not need to create new content around those topics. Post a short message about them on social media and link to previous blog posts.
Also: Since July is prime vacation time, send texts or emails to clients to remind them to book their pet’s boarding spot early.
With back-to-school promotions front and center, focus your August client communications on education — think puppy training, socialization and fun pet facts. If you offer grooming services, consider a back-to-school makeover session.
Time-saving tip: Since the summer months are so busy, offer a discount for clients who forward-book non-urgent procedures, such as dental cleanings and spay and neuter surgeries, for the slower fall months.