July  2017    
Volume 9, Issue 7    

Don't Be  Part 
of the 
"No Vacation

Upcoming Events

VetPartners Meeting
Indianapolis, IN 
July 19-21, 2017

AVMA Conference
Indianapolis, IN 
July 21-25, 2017


School's out and the air conditioners are working overtime. If your practice is like many, you are making frequent changes to the schedule to accommodate time off requests.
Time off, completely off, can be a rare commodity in the life of a busy practice owner or manager. There are so many demands on your time that you may be happy just make it through the day without dropping any of those balls you have in the air. In 2011, the Center for Economic and Policy Research called America "the no vacation nation". In 2014, a study by the careers website Glassdoor.com found the average American employee who receives time off takes only half of it. In European countries, paid vacation is legally mandated. In the US, there are no such laws. We are conditioned from childhood to equate hard work with success. So despite research documenting the health and productivity benefits of taking time off, a long vacation can be seen as a bad career move, unrealistic or just plain impossible for many U.S. workers.
While there are no federal laws mandating vacation time, there are also no laws against taking the time you have earned. It is important that every person in the hospital, from the most productive veterinarian, to the technician all the doctors want to work with, to the part-time receptionist who only works weekends, has time away from work. It is not clear whether vacations cause better health or whether they are just an indicator of healthier lifestyles. But taking time off has physical and mental benefits. When you truly get away, with no phone calls, no panicked texts and no urgent (or not so urgent) emails, you can give yourself some physical and psychological distance from the practice. The less you think about work, the more creative you can be at solving problems when you return. You may get some new insight on how to resolve a problem.
Vacations also provide benefits to the practice. Those benefits include:
  • Reduce or prevent burnout. You have seen the studies and read the articles. Anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout. Symptoms of stress at work include irritability, lack of interest, trouble concentrating or feeling cynical or resentful. Vacations can put your staff in a more positive mind frame.
  • Identify training needs. There is someone in your practice today with that special knack of "fixing" the troublesome piece of lab equipment, the autoclave door or the fax machine. Another person may be the only employee who knows what to do with microchip registration forms, how to special order food, which plumber you use, or how much cyclosporine to order. Even the most detailed procedures manual doesn't cover every situation, and you won't know if the procedure is documented correctly until someone who has never done it before needs to do it on a deadline. In other words, you don't know what you don't know.
  • Identify areas of embezzlement or "shrinkage". In fact, if you have an employee who resists going on vacation, it can be a red flag that she is doing something she doesn't want you to discover.
  • Give your staff a break from you. You may think I'm joking, but working for a tense, cranky boss gets old after a while. Do everyone a favor and take a vacation. An added benefit: your staff may have a renewed appreciation for you after spending two weeks with a relief doctor who doesn't know where anything is or how to use the software. 
It's easy to make vacations a habit. Here's how:
  • Make a plan. The best way to make sure you take a vacation is to plan for it. Pull out your calendar and mark off the days you wish to be gone. Include some long weekends, as well as longer breaks. There is no time like the present to put plans in place for the rest of this year.
  • Pull together the vacation requests for doctors, managers and other key staff to ensure you have strong coverage throughout the year. Review time off balances for all staff members to gauge who needs to take time off before the end of the year.
  • Reconsider vacation policies that pay employees for unused vacation time. You may be rewarding attendance at the expense of efficiency and morale.
  • Identify who will cover for you while you are gone. If you know you are leaving the practice in good hands, it's easier to enjoy yourself. Multi-doctor practices juggle the schedule by asking every doctor to put in more hours while another is out. It's easier to accept the additional workload if you know someone will do the same for you. It can be more difficult for 1-2 doctor practices to maintain the usual appointment schedule. Certainly, choosing to work an exhausting schedule is an option, but a better policy is to bring in a relief doctor. You could also develop a co-cover relationship with other local small practices. Given the increasing competitive practice environment, it is no longer an option to close the practice while you are away, if it ever really was an option.
Though we might like to think so, none of us is so important that the business can't get along without us for a few weeks. One of the signs of a good manager is when things run smoothly while you are gone. Encourage your staff to take their vacation time. Set a good example, don't be a part of the "no vacation nation." Unwind, unplug, and get the heck out of Dodge. You will come back refreshed and recharged.        
What stage are you at in the Practice Lifecycle?