Work-Life Balance Is in, 'Leave It at the Door' Is Out

Chronic stress, the most common issue in the American workplace, affects our well-being to the tune of $125 billion to $190 billion a year in health care expenses, according to Forbes. Work-life balance has been linked to a reduction in stress and burnout — both of which are all too familiar to those of us working in busy veterinary practices.

As far back as 2009, studies have found that employees who felt their organization offered work-life balance worked 21% harder and were 33% more likely to remain with that organization, according to The Balance Careers.

Unfortunately, many of the typical suggestions for achieving work-life balance don't fit the veterinary profession. For example, telecommuting and flexible hours aren't really something we can offer. Nor does it make sense to drag a pingpong table into the break room or offer up beanbag chairs and video games. But don't fret — there are things we as practice managers can do. Here are some tips for improving the work-life balance at your practice.

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Create a Pleasant Work Environment

Promoting a healthy, happy culture will come back to you tenfold in increased productivity and reduced absenteeism and turnover. Here are some ways to ensure your practice is a great workplace:

  • Promote a positive culture. I cannot emphasize enough how important this is. What does a healthy, happy work culture look like? It's based on open and honest communication, mutual respect, and integrity. These values must apply to everyone on your team, even the owner. Hypocrisy is the No. 1 demotivator of teams.
  • Carve out some room to breathe. Make some space for a break room and make it inviting. Purchase a single serve coffee machine and keep a supply of various coffee and tea flavors. Stock granola bars, nuts, and dried fruits so your team can refuel throughout the day. Paint the walls a soothing color and use an essential oil diffuser to disperse lavender or other calming scents into the air.
  • Offer an occasional perk. Once a month, offer an early morning yoga class (goat yoga and puppy yoga have become popular, says Naperville Animal Hospital) or have a massage therapist give chair massages to the team. If possible, barter with the provider to reduce upfront costs. Give employees their birthday off and pay them anyway.

Take Care of the Team

Life doesn't happen in shifts, so expecting your team members to turn off part of their lives from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day simply isn't reasonable. Try these tips to support your staff:

  • Be flexible. Allow team members to take longer lunches for doctors' appointments, partner with a nearby child care provider, and offer to pay for overtime fees when employees have to stay late due to unforeseen circumstances at the practice. If someone has a lot going on in their life and could really use a solid eight hours to sort it out, offer a paid day off so they can take care of business — not a PTO day from their allowance, but a freebie. Call it a "mental health day" or "take care of stuff" day. I've done this at the practices that I've managed and the employees are so grateful. They come back to work less stressed and more focused on the tasks at hand. And because they recognize it as a gesture in support of their well-being, I've yet to have anyone abuse it.
  • Respect their time. I know that sometimes working through lunch or staying late is necessary, but don't make it the norm. Assign an on-call staff member who stays late when needed, and rotate the responsibility out each time. When employees are on their lunch break, do not interrupt them — let them have that time to themselves.
  • Show your gratitude. I've been known to buy lunch for the entire staff when I can tell it's going to be tough for everyone to get a break. I've brought in donuts or bagels for breakfast, or offered a coffee run just to say, "Thanks for everything you do." People also value an occassional handwritten note. When I see a team member going above and beyond, I'll take a moment and write them a quick note of appreciation.

The days of "leave it at the door" are gone. Instead, you need to create a culture where the people you depend on have the space to handle their daily lives. In return, your team members will thrive and your business will, too.

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Katie Adams

Katie is a CVPM with over a decade of experience in the veterinary field. She has spoken nationally on best business practices, emotional intelligence, and conflict competence. Katie enjoys writing and has a regular monthly column in Firstline Magazine. She is most passionate about helping others.

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