How Practice Managers Can Keep Up with Changing Employment Laws
By: Kellie Olah, SPHR, SHRM-CP
Although it has always been challenging for many small business owners to keep up with evolving employment-related legislation, COVID-19 has made this situation even more problematic. Legislation is being rapidly passed, containing new and sometimes confusing information. It can be hard for your practice to keep up but it’s worth the effort because when you don’t have access to the most current information or you lag in compliance, this can lead to numerous problems. The consequences can be as serious as litigation against your practice.
As a general approach, it can be helpful to gather a list of trustworthy resources that you can regularly check. This includes reviewing the most current information on topics ranging from healthcare and injury/worker’s compensation to paid time off, unemployment, retirement, and much more. Once armed with the foundational knowledge you need, you can then determine which tasks you can handle within your practice and which ones require help from an expert, such as an employment attorney.
Employment Law Resources
At a federal level, the U.S. Department of Labor (U.S. DOL) provides information on a comprehensive range of employment issues. As just one example, here is their resource page that helps employers and employees to address the impact of the coronavirus. The DOL also provides a newsletter, along with contact information for your state labor office so that you can stay up to date with state-level laws and pending legislation. Subscribe to receive email updates from both a federal and state level (for each state where you practice).
If you come across a legal term that is new to you, or one where you need clarification, the Cornell Legal Information Institute has provided a wiki-style legal dictionary and encyclopedia. You can also find human-resource-related legal advice at NOLO’s free employment law center. NOLO has been publishing legal guides since 1971 and has developed into a trusted website.
You can also glean helpful information from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) website, including free tools and information. This organization has a mission to empower people and workplaces by advancing human resource practices and maximizing human potential. If you find the free content provided by SHRM to be valuable, you can also consider becoming a paid member.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is also a helpful resource, with a small business legal center that provides information to small business owners. Plus, NFIB monitors relevant legislation and advocates for small business interests in courts. You can also find state-related employment law news and, if you need more in-depth information about issues that are specific to your practice, you can become a paid member. With that membership, you can call the legal center to ask questions.
Another in-depth resource is HR-Business and Legal Resources. There, you can find state-specific information on a variety of employment topics. There is a reasonable amount of free content with more available for members. To see if the premium content would be valuable for your practice, you can sign up for a 14-day free trial.
What we’ve provided isn’t a comprehensive list of available resources, but they are some of the most commonly used and trusted ones. If you find another credible source that provides the employment law information you need, share it with the rest of your practice.
Once you’ve identified resources for your practice to use and you have signed up for newsletters, email alerts, and so forth, what’s next? These steps can include:
- deciding who at your practice should monitor all the information that’s coming in; if you have a discrete human resource department, that answer may be easier than if multiple employees are wearing the HR hat
- concluding which sites and resources end up being the most valuable to your practice; it can make sense to start out by receiving and reviewing information from a larger number of organizations and then focusing more on those that provide the targeted information you need
- determining which message format works best for you; for example, your practice might find watching videos of employment law updates is the best use of everyone’s time
- attending relevant online trainings; these may come with a cost, but they’re likely to be much less expensive than traveling to a location where trainings are being held—and, because of the COVID-19, online resources are more practical and becoming more prevalent
Although online trainings may not allow for the in-depth personal networking that can take place over, say, a weekend-long event at a training center, they’re more affordable; can fit within busy schedules (especially if you have access to the videos after a live event); and can be ideal for practices where in-person trainings aren’t often available nearby.
As you learn new information and as employment law evolves, it’s important to review your policies and procedures; update what’s needed; and share the revised information with your practice team.
When to Talk to an Employment Law Attorney
The ideal situation would be to have an employment law attorney on retainer— one you trust, and who understands the legal issues that veterinary practices often face, as well as your practice’s unique workplace culture. If that’s not possible, then the next best option is to choose an attorney with expertise that dovetails with your practice needs and consult with him or her when issues of significance arise, or you need clarification on areas of employment law.
Examples of when it can make sense to consult with an employment attorney include, but are not limited to, when:
- firing an employee; ideally, you always run employee firings past your attorney, but especially if you believe an employee might sue the practice, perhaps because of an employment contract or because he or she is in a protected class
- an employee files a complaint or sues your practice
- creating a contract or agreement
- creating or updating your employee manual
- bringing in or buying out a practice partner
Choosing the Right Employment Attorney
If you don’t have one yet for your practice or you’re looking to switch attorneys, be clear about what you want the attorney to do. If you want him or her to regularly update you on employment law changes, for example, then that’s different than if you want someone available when you want to address a specific issue at your practice.
Consider asking other practices and small businesses for recommendations. Ask what they like about the attorney and if they’ve had any problems with their choice. You can read online reviews of recommended attorneys, but remember to take them with a grain of salt because it’s hard to find an attorney of substance with no unhappy clients. You can also use lawyer directories such as those available through the American Bar Association, and other similar websites.
Once you have a short list of candidates, interview each one. Many attorneys, but not all, offer a free initial consultation so you can get to know one another. This can help you make the right choice. You’ll want an experienced attorney who is well versed in the laws of your state, someone you feel comfortable with and who communicates well without reverting to jargon that can be confusing. By the end of your initial conversation, you should be able to determine if that individual has a personality that you would enjoy consulting with, and has the knowledge base to successfully assist you with managing your veterinary practice.
Associate Contracts for Corporate Consolidators
Veterinary Business Advisors, Inc.
As the presence of corporate consolidators in the veterinary field increases, it has become even more important to understand what to look for when negotiating an associate contract with a corporate practice. Generally speaking, corporations can have a significant edge in negotiations because they can cause you to believe that their contracts are non-negotiable. They may, for example, say the following: “This is our contract for everyone.” In reality, everything is negotiable, and it’s your value that allows you to negotiate your own contract.
While it’s true you may have less negotiating power with a corporation than with a private practice, you will have more legal protection under the employment laws with a corporation. Ideally, all contracts should be reviewed by an attorney or translator experienced in reviewing veterinary employment agreements, because contracts are intended to prevent miscommunications in the future. Below are some key points to consider when negotiating a contract with a corporate consolidator (“CC”).
- Term and Termination: How long will it be until your contract expires? Does the term automatically renew at this time? Note that, if a contract has a one-year term, that does not guarantee you a one-year employment. The employer may in fact have the ability to terminate you sooner. CCs like to use the term “at will,” meaning they can fire you at any time for any reason. Other ways of termination would be “without cause” with both parties agreeing to give “X” number of days’ notice before termination. Many CCs, though, will not want to give you advance notice, especially if they are taking over a new practice.
- Schedule: How many scheduled hours per week are you required to work? Beyond that, how many additional hours must be spent calling owners, overseeing patient care, and more? Are there any required emergency hours? What about holidays, weekends, and nights? CCs tend not to give exact number of hours to be worked. They tend to use language such as “minimum of 40 hours” as opposed to “from 35-45 hours.” Specificity is against the interests of the CC.
- Duties: What, as an associate, are you required to do? Review this, because some CCs may require you to do additional work that you didn’t need to do for old management. Do you, for example, have to organize staff meetings? Participate in marketing? Handle emergencies during work hours? Being specific in the contract almost always benefits the employee. Note that private practices tend to be more willing to mentor you in these duties than CCs.
- Compensation: Typically, compensation is paid by salary, commission (production), or a combination of both. How is your production calculated? Do you get production reports? Are there any deductions from your salary and, if so, what are they? Is there negative accrual during slow production months? CCs can change how they calculate their production pay. If you’re not aware of how you get paid, you may not realize why your production pay has changed.
- Benefits: Most practices offer some sort of benefits package, and CCs typically offer larger and better packages than private practices. However, these benefits can be subject to change and are not guaranteed by the employer. CCs tend to comply with state and federal employment laws that govern how benefits are given, while private practices may not, due to lack of knowledge. These benefits are tax deductible and are not calculated as employee income. Therefore, there is a large savings to be gained with a larger benefits package. This usually includes but is not limited to health insurance, professional liability insurance, and retirement benefits. Note that, if a CC offers malpractice insurance, it often does not cover license defense.
- Exclusivity: Employers will usually require you to perform services for their hospital alone. This would prohibit you from doing any shelter or relief work on the side. This may even prohibit any other type of job, even if not related to veterinary medicine. CCs are no exception here, and you must negotiate specific exceptions if you wish to work outside of the CC.
- Performance Evaluation: Will you be provided written or oral evaluations? When? Does this correlate to compensation?
- Signing/Relocation Bonus: In today’s market, veterinarians are valuable and most places will offer some kind of sign-on bonus. CCs can usually offer a significantly higher bonus and, depending on where you are coming from, often offer a significant relocation allowance as well. Most of these bonuses are tied to retention, meaning you must work there for a predetermined amount of time—perhaps one year—to keep the bonus. If not, the money must be repaid. Also, in your contract, it’s important to find out if the bonus can be kept if you are fired without cause. One perk of working for CCs is that, if you are moving, they can often help you to relocate to another one of their locations, which can make the process significantly easier.
- Non-Competition: The agreement states that the employee will not directly compete with the employer after termination of employment. The provision must state a specific distance and time (e.g., two years, ten air miles). This area should cover where 85% of the practice’s clientele comes from (trade area). When does your non-compete kick in? When does the non-compete become enforceable? CCs often have a much stricter policy than private practices. For example, some do not allow you to work in proximity to any of their hospitals. This could easily double or triple the area you could be prohibited from working in and can change if new hospitals open up. Also, the scope of restricted activity may be broader with CCs. In addition to small animal medicine, they may include intellectual property, research, practice management, and so forth.
- Non-Solicitation: This agreement states that the employee will not try to poach other employees away from the business to work elsewhere. This would apply even if you are outside your non-compete area. It is important to also know that some CCs will not allow you to solicit employees from any location of theirs, even if you don’t personally know them.
- Assignment: There is currently a very active market for the sale of veterinary practices. Many employers include provisions that allow your original contract to be signed over to the new owner. This means the buyer would not need to negotiate a new contract with you. It is important to check for this provision, whether you currently work for a private practice or already work for a CC.
It is important to understand all aspects of your contract while negotiating your associate contract to decrease any confusion during and after your contract period, whether a private or corporate practice. With the rise of corporations in the Veterinary industry, it is also important to note the differences between what a private practice and corporation could look like relating to an associate contract.
Try to make the contract as specific as possible so there is no ambiguity if an issue arises. Ask as many questions as you need prior to signing to clarify what exactly your job will entail. Always have the contract reviewed by a lawyer familiar with the field and do not feel pressured to sign prior to this. Corporations may be pushy and imply they do not negotiate, but this is your well-being and livelihood, not theirs. Know your value and pursue it in any contract.
Mental Health Challenges in the Practice: How to Identify and Combat Them
Veterinary Business Advisors, Inc.
In February 2015, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released survey results focused on responses given by more than 10,000 practicing veterinarians, most of whom were in small animal practice (69%). The results are worrying.
- 8% of males in the profession have a serious mental illness/psychiatric disorder, with feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness; this is twice the prevalence, nationally, for males in the United States
- Figures for females are even higher, at 10.9%, which is two to three times the national prevalence
- 4% of males and 19.1% of females in the profession have considered suicide, three times the U.S. national average
Here’s where it gets even more concerning. The three primary stressors identified by survey respondents were:
- Demands of veterinary practice
- Veterinary practice management responsibilities
- Professional mistakes and client complaints
The reason that this is so concerning: although the survey provides no empirical data about veterinary practice staff:
- When the veterinarian is dealing with mental illness challenges, this affects the entire practice
- The stressors that are negatively affecting the veterinarians themselves also affect the entire practice
So, it is likely that the disturbing statistics about veterinarians and their mental health challenges are just the tip of the iceberg. How, then, can this problem be addressed? First we will look at the challenges in more depth and then provide recommended strategies.
Closer look at the challenges
In an article by the American Veterinarian Medical Association titled Veterinarians and Mental Health: CDC Results and Resources, another challenge is identified: stigma. “There is a stigma among our profession,” the article reads, “toward those with mental illness, as though mental illness is a weakness that should be stifled, overcome or simply cut out like a surgeon excising a growth. But it’s not that simple. Mental illness is not a weakness or a personal or professional failing; it’s a real medical condition that must be treated.”
Harvard Health Publications acknowledges the difficulties that mental illness stigmas can create: “the stigma attached to having a psychiatric disorder,” the article reads, “is such that employees may be reluctant to seek treatment . . . out of fear that they might jeopardize their jobs. At the same time, managers may want to help but aren’t sure how to do so. And clinicians may find themselves in unfamiliar territory, simultaneously trying to treat a patient while providing advice about dealing with the illness at work. As a result, mental health disorders often go unrecognized and untreated – not only damaging an individual’s health and career, but also reducing productivity at work.”
Common psychological problems in the workplace include depression, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety – and the economic consequences are tangible. In one study that focused on the financial impact of 25 chronic physical and mental problems, depression was most costly, with anxiety ranking fifth. Furthermore, “Many of the studies in this field have concluded that the indirect costs of mental health disorders – particularly lost productivity – exceed companies’ spending on direct costs, such as health insurance contributions and pharmacy expenses. Given the generally low rates of treatment, the researchers suggest that companies should invest in the mental health of workers – not only for the sake of the employees but to improve their own bottom line.”
Here are more granular statistics about mental illness and the U.S. workforce; note that these are not specifically focused on veterinary practices:
- Approximately 6% of employees experience depression symptoms per year and these workers report the equivalent of 27 lost work days per year, nine because of actual absence and 18 because of lost productivity. Only 57% of employees with major depressive symptoms received mental health treatment in the past year, with only 42% of those in treatment receiving adequate help.
- Approximately 1% of American employees deal with bipolar symptoms per year, with an average of 28 work days lost per year because of absenteeism and another 35 in lost productivity. About 2/3 received treatment, but only 9% who sought care from general practitioners received care meeting recommended guidelines, with 45% meeting that goal when they consulted with mental health professionals.
- Approximately 6% of the population suffers from anxiety but it tends to go undiagnosed for 5 to 10 years.
- Approximately 3.5% of employees have ADHD, and they lose, on average, 22 work days a year – and are 18 times as likely to be disciplined for behavioral/other work problems and two to four times as likely to be terminated. Only 13% of these workers are being treated in a given year.
Dealing with the challenges
Harvard suggests that employers think of mental health care as an investment. When depression is treated, as one example, “companies reduce job-related accidents, sick days, and employee turnover, as well as improve the number of hours worked and employee productivity.”
Mental Health America suggests the following strategies to help employees:
- Ask your insurance carrier about (adequate) mental health coverage
- Provide access to employee assistance programs (EAPs)
- Be accommodating, creating an environment for people with special needs
- Bring in an expert on mental health to speak to the practice
- Create and enforce a return-to-work policy, including for those with mental illnesses
CDC suggests that practices also provide depression recognition screenings and make available confidential self-rating sheets. Meanwhile, the AMVA provides numerous resources to help practices with wellness strategies at https://www.avma.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/Personal/PeerAndWellness/Pages/default.aspx
“Mental health problems in the workplace,” Harvard Health Publications, February 1, 2010, http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/mental-health-problems-in-the-workplace
Nett, Randall J., Tracy K Witte, Stacy M. Holzbauer, et. al., “Notes from the Field: Prevalence of Risk Factors for Suicide Among Veterinarians – United States, 2014,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 13, 2015, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6405a6.htm?s_cid=mm6405a6_e
“Support an Employee,” Mental Health America, http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/support-employee
“Veterinarians and Mental Health: CDC Results and Resources,” American Veterinary Medical Association, February 12, 2015, http://atwork.avma.org/2015/02/12/veterinarians-and-mental-health-cdc-results-and-resources/
“Workplace Health Promotion: Depression,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 23, 2013, http://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/implementation/topics/depression.html
Exit Interviews: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How
Kellie G. Olah, CVPM, SPHR, SHRM-CP
Veterinary Business Advisors, Inc.
One of the most valuable assets at your veterinary practice is the people you employ, with skilled ones having the ability to boost the quality of service you provide to clients and their animal companions. Sometimes, though, these employees leave, doing so for a variety of reasons. This can present challenges for your practice, but it also offers a silver lining opportunity if you conduct an exit interview to gather insights from that departing team member.
To help your practice extract maximum value out of these interviews, we’ll share insights into the who, what, when, where, why, and how of it all—starting with the “why.”
Employees often have deep insights into what works well at your practice—and what doesn’t. They may not have felt comfortable sharing their thoughts while working at the organization but may feel freer to have an honest conversation once they will be leaving.
Through these exit interviews, you can glean information about why this particular employee is leaving and then use what you learn to improve working conditions and boost productivity and retention—which in turn can save your practice money. After all, it isn’t cheap to recruit, hire, and train new employees.
Reasons why people leave can range from their salary and benefits to being recruited by another company that appeals to them, experiencing problems with management and/or other employees, and so forth. Some people may be reluctant to share issues of concern, even on their way out, while others will be happy to have the opportunity. So, it’s important to prepare an approach for either possibility.
You can also take what you learn from exit interviews to look for patterns. If one person admits she is leaving because of a particular manager, it may be a personality conflict. If four out of the last five people who left mention that same manager, that’s an entirely different situation.
People involved in the exit interview will include the employee who is leaving the practice, along with the person or people conducting the interview and collecting data. This raises the question of who the interviewer(s) should be. Many companies assume this is a human resources function and so they have their HR manager conduct the interview. Although this can elicit helpful information, this person will almost certainly focus on HR issues—salary, benefits, and so forth—and may miss out on the bigger scope.
Having a direct supervisor conduct the interview can create a comfortable atmosphere, given that the employee and supervisor had an open and positive relationship. However, if the employee is leaving—in part or in full—because of that supervisor, that approach can be fraught with difficulties.
Some experts suggest having the supervisor’s supervisor (or, if part of a large company, even one level above that) conduct the interviews. At a small practice, this may mean the practice owner would be the one to hold them. For some exiting employees, this could feel intimidating. For others, though, it could be viewed as a sign that their feedback is being taken seriously.
Still other companies use a consultant to conduct exit interviews. This costs money, which some practices may not want to spend. On the positive side, employees may feel more comfortable giving authentic feedback to a neutral party. Plus, an experienced consultant has the ability to draw out valuable insights and provide reliable information to the practice. Some companies have in-house exit interviews conducted, following them up with consultant-led ones.
As you can see, there is no one right answer. Think about your practice and make a savvy choice, continuing to improve upon the interviewing process whenever possible.
The first part of the process is to schedule and hold the exit interview (more about when and where next). Explain how the purpose of the interview is to get feedback from the exiting employee to improve working conditions and otherwise meet employee needs in better ways in the future.
It makes sense to have a set of questions to use but allow for flexibility. For example, you could start by asking why the person is leaving the practice. Here are two contrasting responses you could get:
- I got a better job.
- I’m going to take a break from the workforce to spend more time with my young children.
You would follow up quite differently with each of these. With response one, you might use these follow-up questions:
- What makes this a better job (salary, benefits, flexibility, etc.)?
- When did you start looking for a new job? What was the triggering event?
- Why did you choose to accept the new job that you did? What is more appealing to you there?
With response two, if you wanted to retain this employee, you might decide to ask if there is a way you could restructure this person’s job to allow them to have more family time while still working at your practice. Is a part-time position available?
Other questions, in general, to ask can include:
- Did we provide you with what you needed to do your job well?
- Did you receive helpful and clear feedback from us?
- What else could we have provided you (training, equipment, and so forth)?
- What are your impressions about our practice’s culture?
- If you could change some things about our culture or working conditions, what would they be?
- What would have helped you to stay at our practice?
- Were you happy (or at least satisfied) with management here? If not, why not?
- Would you consider returning here if the opportunity arose? Why or why not?
People conducting the exit interviews must be open to feedback and respectful and listen well.
In general, it makes sense to conduct the exit interview a few days before the employee will be done at the practice. If held when the person gives notice—perhaps two weeks or a month before actually leaving—then the employee may be somewhat reluctant to share less than wonderful feedback about the practice. After all, they would still be working with the people they may criticize for a period of time.
Conversely, it’s best to avoid the last day. For some exiting employees, all they’ll be thinking about is what lies ahead and so they may not give the interview their full attention. Other employees—perhaps emotionally touched by a going away party given that day—may only give wonderful feedback, thus preventing the practice from receiving constructive criticism.
Exit interviews should be held, ideally in person, in a place that’s both convenient and private. Locations could range from a private office where the conversation won’t be overheard to a restaurant where a reasonably uninterrupted conversation could take place over lunch.
How should data collected be used?
After gathering information from exit interviews, members of the practice’s management should analyze what was shared to see if changes should be made to better meet the needs of current employees. Are there, for example, voluntary benefits that you should add to your practice’s menu of choices? Should your practice offer more training opportunities? Seek out ways to build in some flex time?
After you make changes, update your employee manual appropriately and monitor the effects that changes made have on employee satisfaction, productivity, retention and so forth. Composite insights can be used in the practice’s strategic planning and recruiting strategies going forward and otherwise be factored in when making decisions that can affect employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention.
Sidebar: Stay Interviews
Valuable as exit interviews can be, they are still a look into a rear-view mirror. This is feedback from employees who will no longer be part of your practice. So, also consider “stay interviews” where you interview the best of your current employees. This allows you to keep a finger on your practice’s pulse. How satisfied are these employees? What issues are the most important to them? Have any of them considered seeking greener pastures? If so, when and why? Are any of them being recruited by other practices or organizations?
This gives you an opportunity to compare what you’ve learned from exit interviews with what current star employees tell you. How will this impact the changes you make at your practice? How can you use what you learn to recruit, hire, train, and retain employees in the future to strengthen your practice?
Work-Life Balance—or Work-Life Integration?
Kellie G. Olah, CVPM, SPHR
The topic of work-life balance has been discussed for decades, with a variety of experts weighing in with different perspectives. Over the past few years, though, a new phrase has been tossed into the mix—that of work-life integration—and you may be wondering if there is really a difference, or if an old phrase has just been given a fresher name. The short answer is that the idea of work-life balance has evolved into a new and more holistic concept—that of integration. Here’s more.
Balance Versus Integration
The idea of balance suggests that the amount of time or energy spent on one activity—whether work or life outside of it—takes away from the other activity. As a visual, imagine a double-pan scale. If you put weights on one side, the other side automatically goes up while the side with the weights goes down. So, in a work-life balance scenario, time spent at work automatically takes away time spent with family, friends, and so forth—and vice versa.
This concept does have value, though. It’s simple and straightforward. You’re working or you’re otherwise living your life. Either/or. Plus, when this concept began to be discussed in the 1970s and 1980s, it did shine a spotlight on stressed, even burned out workers—initially the Baby Boomers—and it acknowledged the need for personal time.
More recently, experts and human resource leaders have begun to challenge this concept, or at least point out flaws. For example, many Millennials are looking at the work-life equation somewhat differently, in a way that doesn’t fit within the notion of balancing the two options.
These Millennials are envisioning what a meaningful life would look like to them and then seeking out jobs and pursuing careers that would allow that to happen. This is in contrast to the approach that’s traditionally been used—that of finding a job and then fitting in family and leisure activities around employment.
So, in short, work-life integration replaces an either/or dynamic with a holistic one that has more fluidity and flexibility.
Which Combination Resonates?
An example of the traditional concept of work-life balance would be a “banker’s hours” type of job where a person goes to work from, say, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Before they go into work and after they get home—and on the weekends—work is left behind, and they focus on other aspects of life. Shift hours don’t have to be 9 to 5; this is being used to illustrate the either/or nature of a work-life balance.
Now picture a continuum. One the far left are people whose passion for their careers is so great that they largely prefer a work-work balance. Any free time they have would preferably be spent finding additional ways to contribute, career-wise, and to advance in the workplace. On the far right are people with a life-life balance, where they may work because they have to for income, but their career is not a focus. Free time goes to friends, family members, hobbies, and so forth.
Now, the middle of our continuum can represent work-life integration, a situation where the two aspects of life fuse together in a satisfactory way. At this point of our illustration, the continuum image still works symbolically, but not literally—because the combination of work and life that works for one person won’t work for another, and it’s typically not an equal balance of the two activities. Each person can have a different spot on the continuum.
How Your Practice Can Respond
First, it’s important to understand what each of your employees needs, and what each one values, and then brainstorm ways to contribute. The underlying philosophy is that, as your practice’s team is able to take care of family commitments and otherwise participate in meaningful events, the more they’ll be able to provide their best quality of work. After all, even employees with the highest levels of commitment can fall short when they’re feeling burned out or worried because they can’t be present during important family moments.
Next, practice managers can hold conversations with each employee to talk about how to cooperatively create and optimize his or her work-life integration. A key component of this would be to see how flexible the work environment can be. Can employees, for example, switch shifts as long as it’s done in an equitable way that won’t leave gaps in service? Can an employee’s hours be tweaked on certain days? Are there any circumstances in which an employee can do some work remotely?
If employees struggle to fit in exercise with their work and family responsibilities, can your practice have someone lead them in yoga stretches during lunch? If they want or need to obtain continuing education credits, but find it difficult to earn them after work hours, how can you incorporate opportunities in company lunch and learns?
Will this system work perfectly, every day? Of course not. Integration is an ongoing process. On some days, a work schedule may be more demanding; on other days, a personal emergency could arise. Plus, work-related needs and non-work needs can evolve, which means that a process of continual assessment and adjustment will be required.
Practice Managers and Owners
To help develop a flexible work culture, practice managers should also look after their own integration needs. This helps to prevent burn out and sets a good example. It’s also important to not micro-manage the flexibility options that have been given to employees. If, for example, employees are allowed to switch shifts as long as gaps as covered, don’t hover over the employees’ shoulders.
Establish reasonable processes and procedures; include them in your employee manual; communicate them clearly to employees; and then give practice team members some breathing room in implementing them. Encourage them to work out challenges together as a team, only entering the process when they have reached a stalemate.
How Practices Can Benefit
When a practice flexibly collaborates with employees to help them maintain work-life integration, employees are more likely to stay at that practice. This allows managers to recruit and retain quality professionals—which in turns reduces turnover costs associated with recruiting and training new employees.
Plus, when an employee is given opportunities to integrate their lives more fully, they will likely be happier and more committed to the practice—and that shows in the service they provide to clients and their animal companions. This will allow them to serve as better role models for new employees, more willing to help their office mates to achieve their own work-life integrations.
SIDE BAR: Work-Life Integration During COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has changed people’s lifestyles in numerous ways. Some people may be working fewer hours than before or have been laid off or furloughed, while others may be working more hours than ever. Some people have been directly impacted by the virus, perhaps needing to care for a loved one or to recover from illness personally. Although specifics will vary by person, today’s realities can have a significant impact on how you view work-life integration and may trigger evolutions in perspectives.
In other words, you now have an opportunity to evaluate what you truly value through a new and unexpected lens. There are no right or wrong responses when it comes to your thoughts and feelings about work-life integration during the pandemic—so analyze your own unique reactions.
How would you (re)prioritize each aspect of your life? What things that once seemed important can now be set aside for a later time? What now feels crucial to you that you wouldn’t necessary have prioritized so highly, pre-COVID? What aspects of life do you now realize you are ready to eliminate from your lifestyle? What elements of self care do you now plan to implement?