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
Vacation time should be spent drinking a margarita while lying on a beach, soaking up the sites in a great European city or just hanging out at home and doing the things you had put off. It shouldn’t be spent answering work emails, dealing with staff drama or resolving client crises. But unfortunately, that isn’t usually the case. According to a Veterinary Hospital Managers Association survey, only 15% of veterinary practice managers never work while on vacation.
So, as a manager, how can you ensure freedom from work intrusions?
Unfortunately, your team members often forget about the benefits of taking a break from the hospital, and managers can be their own worst enemy in allowing interruptions. It’s easy if you’re staying in town or going somewhere within cell phone range to keep in touch with the practice or “do a few things to help out.” That attitude can make you feel like a team player and demonstrate your commitment. However, studies have identified the significant benefits of taking time off. They include:
- Better physical and mental health.
- Opportunities to think about oneself and what’s important in life.
- Improved sleep quality.
- Enhanced focus, creativity and productivity when you return to work.
- Stronger relationships with family and friends.
- Decreased burnout.
- A boost in happiness and mood.
Time to Disconnect
For starters, make sure your practice values and respects time off. The VHMA Insiders’ Insights survey made clear that not just vacation time is regularly interrupted. Ninety-five percent of managers fielded team members’ calls or text messages after leaving for the day, 45% “always” checked work emails after hours, and 28% “always” or “usually” worked on the weekend when they should have been off.
Incorporate respect for time off into your practice’s culture by:
- Educating everyone — from the practice owner on down — about the benefits of time off.
- Not making it a badge of honor to be a workaholic. Instead, communicate that you value a work-life balance and make it possible for people to take time off.
- Respecting employees’ time off. Don’t call or text them during off hours.
- Not requesting extra work hours from employees who aren’t interested, particularly salaried team members, who don’t earn overtime pay.
- Training employees to handle work issues and setting up systems and workflows that make things go more smoothly and problems less likely to happen.
Of course, specific manager tasks must be done when you’re out, and they can be difficult to complete in a smaller practice. So, what can you do about it? Here are eight suggestions:
1. List all the tasks that make up your job and the approximate number of hours spent each week or month on each one. If something must be done on a specific day or week, note it. The list should be detailed, and don’t forget what you might complete after hours or outside of the office.
2. Categorize the tasks. For example, you could consider:
- Tasks that must be done while you’re gone.
- Items that might come up and need to be addressed.
- Tasks that don’t need addressing when you’re out or could be postponed.
- Items that could be broken into subtasks, with some done while you’re gone and others put on hold.
3. Identify the best team members to complete specific tasks. In most practices, the responsibilities are divided among several people. Be sure to consider a stand-in’s regular job responsibilities — overloading your most competent employee is a bad idea because it would violate the work-life balance you want to maintain in the practice and possibly push someone to quit. Occasionally, you’ll identify someone who wants to work extra hours and is capable of handling all or some of the tasks. In that case, don’t worry about the overtime pay; it’s a cost of doing business.
4. Train selected individuals to accomplish what must be done.
5. Make sure someone knows how to handle potential emergencies. For example, who to call if the computers crash, what to do if the internet goes out, and who to contact about building maintenance issues.
6. Talk to your boss about how you propose delegating your work when you’re out. Also, share any concerns about incidents that might arise when you’re away.
7. Make sure all team members know whom to contact with concerns while you are gone. Make clear that the solution isn’t to pick up the phone and call or text you. Instead, you want everyone to honor your time off the same way the practice honors theirs.
8. When you return to work, evaluate how things went. If something didn’t get done or wasn’t done right, or if a problem occurred, think about what could be handled better the next time.
Ideally, you’ll want a backup plan for any employee who can’t be at work. I’m not talking only about vacation time but also illnesses, family emergencies and sudden resignations. Make sure your practice has someone else who can perform critical tasks, knows where the passwords are stored and can manage a crisis. That’s another reason to have detailed job descriptions and written policies and procedures manuals.
Plan how to handle extended absences, and then enjoy your vacation. Bon voyage!