What slow season? We used to be able to count on those winter and early spring months to hire, retrain, take vacations, etc. Now that it’s “summer-busy” all year round, it’s imperative to start planning for the warmer months as early as possible.
And with the prospect that we’re possibly/hopefully/maybe waking up from a 2.5-year hibernation, it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to start planning things again! The Vet2Pet Success Team (all former practice managers) got together and pooled our ideas on how you can support your veterinary team through what is sure to be a busy summer season.
1: Get creative with workforce scheduling
Try to be flexible (within reason) with your time-off requests. I went so far as to actively encourage my team to schedule PTO. I found that staff perform best when they have something to look forward to, even if it’s a staycation. Some time away from the practice will help to prevent burnout.
If no one is scheduled for vacation, try to build your schedule giving your team rotating 3-day weekends. And with three major holidays during the summertime—Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day—I made sure to rotate coverage so that each team member would only cover one of the lead-in or post-holiday shifts. No one likes working EVERY holiday!
You can also consider a hospital holiday: closing on a Friday or Saturday to give the entire team a long weekend. I promise, the benefits in your veterinary team’s wellbeing will be worth the day’s cost in revenue.
2: Prepare for holidays and PTO
Granting PTO, especially if you’re already short-staffed, can make for some tight shifts, but you are not powerless! Lean on your client communication platforms to spread the word about extended refill requests (it’s really [generally] OK if it takes 48 hours to fill a medication instead of 24 hours), shortened days, and holiday closures.
Meanwhile, make sure to include blocks in your schedule for pre- and post-holiday shifts. You know those fireworks-anxiety appointments are coming, and every holiday presents an opportunity for some foreign body ingestion, so set some room aside for those last-minute pet appointment requests.
Consider bringing a relief doctor on to lighten the load for your doctors, too. This can help you mitigate approving your doctor for some well-deserved and well-earned rest without completely losing your veterinary team’s productivity (and revenue).
3: Schedule a team bonding activity
My staff loved axe throwing. (In fact, you’re currently reading the words of the two-time CPH Axe Throwing Champion…#nobigdeal.) Before the pandemic, axe throwing was an activity we tried to schedule annually. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was amazing to watch my entire veterinary staff cheer on a CSR while their axe hurdled through the air.
But if flinging sharp objects isn’t your thing, here are some other ideas:
- Plan a staff barbecue or potluck at a local park. A manager I know just threw her team a Build-Your-Own-Cheesesteak Party in her practice’s parking lot.
- Rent a projector to beam a movie onto your practice’s outside wall to have a Drive-In Movie Night (I’m a big fan of showing “How To Train Your Dragon” to veterinary staff, FYI)—a few bags of candy and popcorn, a couple cases of Cherry Coke, and you’re all set.
- Set up team yoga.
- Schedule a lake or pool day with your staff and their pets.
- Organize a Field Day in your parking lot with fun games and events.
Whatever your team is interested in, there are low-cost activities you can wrangle together to build some positivity.
4: “Treat” your team right
It’s safe to say that pizza for the team isn’t having the same effect it might have had pre-pandemic. Varying the food and treats you bring in for your staff will show that you put thought and effort into making your team’s day brighter. Try:
- Going on a coffee run (make sure everyone’s individual order is correct!)
- Bringing in some seasonal fruits and vegetables
Pay attention to preferences, allergies, and dietary restrictions. Getting your staff’s minute details correct will show your appreciation for their attention to detail in their work!
5: Try some remote staffing options
Summer could be the perfect time to really see if your practice could benefit from digital or remote positions in the practice (spoiler alert: it WILL). During the height of the-pandemic-that-shall-not-be-named, I was able to lean on laptops and digital platforms (*cough Vet2Pet*) to allow staff to work from home if necessary.
CSRs handled all email, our Vet2Pet platform, and triaged telehealth appointments. Technicians could facilitate all of the paper-pushing, approvals, and veterinary client communications for food and medication refills from home. Our doctors were able to telemed (using 2-Way Chat and 2-Way Texting) from their living rooms.
Schedule an at-home shift for a Friday or a Monday, giving some of your team the feeling of a long weekend without them losing PTO or you losing productivity. Note: We’ve written many a word on getting started with remote staff, including this blog from Dr. Stacee Santi.
Summer should be fun, and with some planning and creativity, you can guide your team through the “busy season” and come out on the other side stronger than ever.