Work Life Balance or Work Life Integration

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?

 

Continued Flexibility

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?

Workplace Issues to Consider About The Internet

Three Workplace Issues to Consider About the Internet

When you think about legal issues associated with the internet that can affect veterinary practices, you may think about telemedicine – and that is an excellent example, although not the only internet-based legal issue faced by practices today. This article provides an overview of three different legal issues associated with the internet.

Researching Potential Employees on Social Media

Social media makes it so easy to find information; including about people your practice is considering hiring. But, is it legitimate to search on social media platforms to discover information about job candidates? As with most broad questions posed about the ever-evolving internet, the answer is “it depends.”

It is not, in general, illegal to research job applicants’ social media profiles, but don’t do so haphazardly. Instead, create a clear written policy about what sites will be reviewed to find what clearly-defined pieces of information. Also determine who will review these profiles and what information will be housed in your records. To add a layer of protection to your social media policy, consider having a person without the ability to hire, a non-decision maker, do the research.

Make sure you follow your policy consistently for all candidates, not only certain ones. If you act inconsistently when an issue involves a protected class, this could open you up to a discrimination lawsuit. A protected class is any group of people with common characteristics who have legal protections from discrimination because of those characteristics. These characteristics include race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, pregnancy status, disabilities and more.

Here’s how something could quickly go wrong. Let’s say you obtain a piece of information that theoretically could lead to your not hiring a candidate. Then let’s say you don’t hire that candidate, but this piece of information had no bearing on your decision whatsoever. The candidate could still claim a connection between your hiring decision and an employment or labor law violation.

Here’s another issue to consider. If your investigation includes a review of the job applicants’ credit history, financial history, driver’s license verification and/or other pieces of related information, you may run afoul of the U.S. Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Employee Use of the Internet

As of September 2016, 87 percent of people in the United States use the internet, according to PewInternet.org. And, according to another PewInternet.org report from November 2016, 79 percent of Americans who use the internet are on Facebook. Smaller percentages of people are on other social media channels, such as Instagram (32 percent), Pinterest (31 percent), LinkedIn (29 percent) and Twitter (24 percent).

The bottom line, though, is that virtually every veterinary practice in the country will have at least some employees who use the internet – so, how do you, as a practice, monitor employees’ internet use while on the clock? Employees want privacy in their internet use, whereas the practice wants to make sure that time on the clock is well spent. Employers also want to ensure that computer use in the practice does not involve any inappropriate or even illegal activities.

The solution? However you choose to monitor employee usage, do so consistently, and create a clear written policy about internet use during company hours. If you don’t provide this policy, then employees could have justification for a breach of privacy lawsuit. If you decide to monitor, what are your options? Some practices may decide to install site-blocking software on all office computers or use software that limits the amount of time that someone can browse a non-work-related site.

What about texting? Should your employees be allowed to text during work hours? Again, a clear written policy about text use is crucial so employees know what is and isn’t acceptable. When crafting the policy, consider context. Having an employee ask his or her child to text when he or she is home from school is a very different situation from an employee who texts about party plans when he or she should be helping with an agitated patient.

Internet Harassment and Cyber Bullying in the Workplace

A serious downside to the internet is online harassment and cyber bullying, and that unfortunately can take place among coworkers. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, a clear written policy about how online harassment and cyber bullying will not be tolerated is crucial. In this statement, clearly define what you mean by harassment and by bullying, and state that examples given in your policy do not constitute the full range of behaviors that fall into these two categories. Share the consequences, up to and including termination, if the policies are not followed.

Consider working with your entire practice team to develop a values statement so that employees can play a role in its formation. Besides creating a useful statement, if you sit in on the meeting, you can likely identify people who are less likely to abide by it.

If you notice higher turnover, be especially vigilant in watching for bullying behaviors and, when identified, deal with them firmly. Also watch out for behaviors and statements that are presented as jokes, with people who don’t find them funny being told they have no sense of humor and need to lighten up.

If someone comes to you to report bullying or harassing behaviors – ones that are occurring to the person reporting them or to someone else – take them seriously. Slow down, listen and respond accordingly. Also consider what resources to offer to people being bullied or harassed, from stress management strategies to counseling services.

Conclusion

These are three of the more common legal issues connected to internet use in the workplace, but this is not a comprehensive list. Use this article as your starting point and remember to update your policies and procedures as internet technology evolves. Also watch for information about court cases where boundaries of cyber bullying are adjudicated in the courtroom.

 

How to Manage Narcissistic Personality Disorder

How to Manage Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Veterinary Business Advisors, Inc.

www.veterinarybusinessadvisors.com

*Principles of this blog are based off the National Business Institute’s course on “Dealing with Narcissistic Personality Disorder in the Legal Practice: Clients, Counsel, and Others”.

Whether a client or a coworker, unhealthy narcissism can derail an otherwise straightforward experience together.

In 2020, there were 7 million American adults who have NPD or narcistic style. People who have this tend to see others as objects for their personal gratification, or as potential threats.  Their world view tends to be win or lose. When those diagnosed with NPD, behavior traits include:

      • Lack of empathy
      • Grandiose sense of self-importance
      • Excessively concerned about their image
      • Dirven to seek attention and admiration
      • Largely superficial relationships
      • Feel entitled to manipulate or exploit others
      • Rarely admit they are wrong
      • Become enraged when they feel disrespected or humiliated
      • Play the victim or martyr

How do you know or feel in the presence of narcissists? You can feel often belittled, under scrutiny or even judged, as if nothing you are doing is good enough, among many other feelings. Unfortunately, narcissists hide behind a façade of fear.

Working with Narcissists & Communicating with Clients with NPD –

The Narcissist’s Code – have you ever had a client or colleague that you sense may exhibit these traits? It’s helpful to know what may be motivating them, especially if it’s not obvious. One of the key points is that image is everything for them.  Next is getting attention – it’s often when they feel listened to or admired – they feel expansive and fueled. If they are not at the center of attention, they can feel depressed, and often aggressive. Honesty is optional for them! Narcissist’s can be great liars as they seek image enhancement, being incredibly convincing in the moment. Next, they tend to believe others are either against them or out to get them.  Narcissists tend to be driven by emotions and impulses. Winning is everything for them. Knowing these traits can allow you to be aware, and even create strategies to respond.

What could this look like with a potential client? Clients could think they know more or better than you as the veterinarian or technician, and will even demean or manipulate other members of your staff.  They expect to be admired and rules are an exception to them.

Key Tip: A practical tip to respond include sharing that their treatment doesn’t feel respectful, which can ultimately interfere with helping them achieve their goals.

DON’T DO
Argue with them Authentically praise their strong points
Try to get them to accept responsibility Educate them on possible consequences, then let them choose
Take what they say personally Recognize that they are like this with everybody
Argue for a win-win approach Focus the narcissist on his/her interests rather than what the opposing party receives
Respond to dramatics or ultimatums Return to the narcissist’s goals and interests
Take the bait when criticized Reassure them that you are on their side, and refocus on the case
Overlook any failures to follow your policies Document, document, document. Make exceptions to your policies sparingly, if at all.

It can often be incredibly mentally and emotionally draining when dealing with someone who exhibits NPD.  It’s important however, to hold onto your voice and set boundaries.  It is not your responsibility to fix them. Dr. Dan Neuharth shares the “11 Things NOT to Do with Narcissists”:

  1. Don’t take them at face value
  2. Don’t over-share personal information
  3. Don’t feel a need to justify your thoughts, feelings or actions
  4. Don’t minimize their dysfunctional behavior
  5. Don’t expect them to take responsibility
  6. Don’t assume they share your values and worldview
  7. Don’t try to beat them at their own game
  8. Don’t take their actions personally
  9. Don’t expect empathy or fairness
  10. Don’t expect them to change
  11. Don’t underestimate the power of narcissism

Many of this can be easier said than done, but try to remember: in most cases, it’s not your responsibility to satisfy their cravings for admiration and praise. We can have compassion for the suffering of narcissists, but it does not mean excusing them for their narcissistic actions. Rather, focusing on the patient or case at hand, focusing on facts and trying a tip or two from the above table.

Lawful Terminations: A How-to Guide

When deciding whether or not to terminate an employee, and weighing the pros and cons, you need to assess the costs and benefits of keeping this employee versus firing him or her. Consider the following:

  • the nature of the behavior or performance issues involved
  • the seriousness of these issues
  • how this employee is affecting other employees or clients
  • how easily you can replace this employee
  • the costs of recruiting, hiring, training and retaining a new employee

If this employee is exposing your practice to significant legal or business risks, then the decision to terminate the employee will be different from one where, perhaps with coaching, the employee could potentially contribute to the company.

If the issues are increasing the workload and responsibility of other employees, then it is important to also consider the ripple effects that the behavior of one employee is having on the entire practice.

This article will review the key considerations when beginning the process of a lawful termination. Start with the question of why you are considering terminating this employee. It is important that you can determine the reason before moving forward with the rest of the process.

It may be tempting to terminate someone’s employment because he or she doesn’t fit well into the company culture, or isn’t especially likeable.  It’s easy to revert to the notion of at-will employment when that’s the case. The principle of at-will employment means that an employee can be fired at any time, for any reason, as long as there is not an illegal reason involved. Some people may conclude that there shouldn’t be a problem with this termination.

An issue can develop if you terminate an employee at will, and then that employee states that an illegal reason was involved. In this case, the employer must prove that this was not the situation.  Unfortunately, wrongful termination claims are not always easy to disprove. They can also harm your practice’s reputation, breed mistrust among other employees, and lead to lawsuits.

Next, we will review the following:

  • reasons for wrongful termination claims
  • the actual conversation about termination
  • information about high-risk terminations

Throughout this article, we will also share strategies to protect your practice.

Reasons for Wrongful Termination Claims

One reason for wrongful termination is employment discrimination. It can include discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. An employer also cannot discriminate against an employee because of their disability, age or pregnancy. These are all illegal reasons to fire someone. You also can’t terminate an employee as a form of retaliation. 

An employer has the legal obligation to honor employment contracts, union or non-union, including termination clauses. Not doing so is considered breach of contract. There can also be an implied breach of contract, when a company implies, either in writing or verbally, that employment is protected.

This is not intended to be a complete list of potential wrongful termination claims. Instead, it can be used to show the flaws in simply firing someone, at will. There is a more graceful way to go through the process, and  when followed, it should prevent the employee from being surprised that he or she is getting fired. Therefore, the employer is better protected against claims of wrongful termination.

Poor Performance/Behavior Over Time

It’s important to create and carefully follow a disciplinary policy for your practice. It may consist of rules such as providing an employee who has demonstrated a substandard performance with a verbal warning the first time, a written warning the second, and probation or termination on the third. In order to have an effective disciplinary policy, though, you’ll also need to have clear and consistent policies about employee behavior and performance so that your employees clearly know the practice’s expectations. The policies must be consistently enforced, as well.

When a policy is broken, you should follow your progressive disciplinary procedures in a timely way, and in a way in which the severity of consequences increases if an employee doesn’t correct the behavior. In your disciplinary meetings with that employee, you can then share what policies were broken, why this is problematic, and the consequences.

Document every time that you speak to a particular employee about the issue (such as lateness or gossiping), doing so directly after the meeting and listing the following:

  • date of the meeting
  • specific behaviors discussed
  • policy broken
  • consequence for this behavior
  • consequences if this happens again
  • employee’s responses
  • date of follow-up meeting with the employee

It is recommended that you have another manager at disciplinary meetings. This allows one person from the practice to conduct the conversation with the employee, and the other to take notes and serve as a witness. Be sure to have the employee sign relevant disciplinary documents. Following this procedure gives your employee a chance to improve, while also protecting you, as an employer, from wrongful termination claims or lawsuits.

Keep in mind that each time a disciplinary procedure occurs with an employee, the documents that you create may ultimately end up in court. Be sure to professionally list all pertinent details. Avoid judging or interpreting an employee’s behavior; for example, do not comment that while George says he’s late because of traffic, the real issue is that he’s lazy. Stick to the facts.

If your employee isn’t breaking policies, but also isn’t meeting expectations, you can create a performance improvement plan (PIP). This allows you to share goals and checkpoints, while also offering concrete next steps and support. Be sure to have the employee sign the PIP. Keep this documentation, whether disciplinary or PIP, confidential and safely stored.

One-Time Incident

Although documenting behavior or performance issues over time is best, sometimes it isn’t possible. For example, if an employee steals money, becomes violent at work, or brings illegal drugs to the workplace, then the rule that is broken is so severe that the employee needs to be fired immediately. In that case, what’s important is that you respond to any future situations of this severity at a comparable level of discipline.

Conversation about Termination

If the decision to fire a particular employee has been made, then the next issue to consider is how to have the conversation with him or her. If you’ve provided that employee with verbal and written warnings according to your company’s disciplinary policy, then you have increased your protection. Another option is to consult with your practice attorney to make sure that the termination is solid. This will prepare you in case the employee decides to pursue action against the practice.

Once you’re ready to hold the meeting, be timely about making it happen. However, take into account if that employee has something significant happening that day that could make your timing inappropriate.

It can help to have a termination agenda to keep the meeting on track and provide topics to be covered. The agenda should also include items to be returned to the employee and a reminder to get a confirmation of the person’s current address so a final paycheck can be mailed. Having an agenda can also help to guide all parties involved through what’s likely to be an emotionally-charged and stressful meeting, and help to ensure that you cover all necessary items.

Be sure that the location of the meeting is somewhere private. Then, be direct and clear without being harsh. Explain to the employee that after meeting with that employee to discuss behaviors, including the issuance of verbal and written warnings, the decision was made to separate employment that day. Be transparent and make sure you state that the decision is not negotiable. If the employee tries to debate the decision, don’t engage or try to justify yourself, and avoid saying anything that could be construed as a threat.

Keep the meeting short, lasting no longer than 10 to 15 minutes. The greater the length of the meeting, the more potential that something could be said that could expose the practice to a lawsuit. Close the meeting by thanking the employee for contributions made and extend to him or her your best wishes for the future.

An important topic to discuss is the specifics about the physical separation from the workplace. Should the employee, for example, take his or her belongings now? Or do you plan to meet him or her after hours to take out belongings when other employees aren’t at work? In some cases, the employee may have missed too much work, which led to the termination; in that case, you may want to focus on avoiding a humiliating situation for the person. If the reason for termination is something such as embezzlement, then your main focus would be to have the employee leave the workplace as soon as possible. If the ex-employee has property of someone else’s at work, or vice versa, arrangements must be made to transfer belongings.

Be prepared to answer questions that might arise. You can’t predict what they will be, but a common question is whether you will provide references for that person. Regardless of your response, make sure to protect your company while also treating the terminated employee with respect.

Prepare to provide any relevant information about the employee such as benefits, unused vacation time, or any severance agreement. Summarize all relevant information in a termination letter. This dated letter should state that the employee has been terminated, along with a brief description of why and any other pertinent details.

Afterwards, let other employees know about the termination without discussing any confidential information or making negative comments about the former employee. Be straightforward, sharing information the other employees need to know, reassuring them that the company isn’t eliminating roles. Acknowledge that, in the short term, other employees may need to help to manage that person’s workload.

High-Risk Terminations

These are terminations where employees are likely to sue the employer in connection with the termination. Some situations in which this is more likely to happen include the following:

  • employee is a member of a legally protected class
  • employee is a difficult one
  • employee has a relative who is an attorney
  • employee is surprised by the termination

As far as the first example, federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of age (over 40), race, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability. In addition, individual states may have laws that are more stringent. When terminating the employment of someone in a protected class, the employer may be vulnerable to anti-discrimination claims for any statements made prior to, during or even after the employee’s tenure. Examples of these statements are as follows:

  • I know it must be hard to balance your job responsibilities with the new baby.
  • Most 50-year-olds would have trouble meeting the physical demands of this job.

Comments such as those are commonly part of a casual conversation with no discriminatory intent, but could add credence to a wrongful termination claim.

Other employees are difficult: argumentative and/or obstinate. They may refuse to take responsibility for their behavior or performance, becoming defensive and blaming others. Employers may be reluctant to fire this type of employee, fearing confrontation or retaliation. The practice can effectively be held hostage to this type of employee and, when fired, the employee may respond with a lawsuit.

When employees have relatives who are attorneys, it may make it easier for them to sue. The relative may even make the suggestion, and if legal services are offered to the disgruntled employee at a reduced fee, or even for free, there are fewer barriers to suing. Finally, surprised employees may be so devastated that they legally challenge the termination. These situations highlight the importance of carefully creating and following policies as described.

Conclusion

The termination process is almost always uncomfortable, carrying with it a varying degree of legal risk for your practice. Your goal is to make the process as amicable as possible while continuing to minimize risk along the way. The recommendations in this article won’t cover every situation but should provide broad guidelines that you can tailor to your unique circumstances. It is recommended to consult with an employment attorney experienced in the laws for your state.

Read more on the WMPB website here!