This blog is a bit different from my usual posts… But I feel it has very important points for both associates, owners and managers. It discusses how this crisis is a microcosm for how a clinic manages as a whole, and how past management styles either good or bad, are being ‘rewarded’ by staff.
There is HUGE Financial Uncertainty…
During the COVID crisis, many people are losing their jobs… many people are worried about financial stability, and even in the vet world we are holding our breathes (at the time of writing) to find out if we will be ‘essential’ and allowed to stay open, or if we will all lose our jobs.
I am no exception. As the sole bread-winner my income is imperative to my family’s survival. We are fortunate enough to have an emergency fund, but it isn’t that big. So, I want to keep working as much as possible, because if we do get shut down… we have no idea for how long, and that means no income for my family.
So, WHY then did I drop some of my shifts???
The simple answer is: I didn’t TRUST that employer.
I had been pushing and advocating for this particular clinic to go to ‘contactless consults’ for 2 weeks… I had written up protocols, met with the managers, etc. There are many staff members at that clinic that are on immunosuppressants or have partners on immunosuppressants, and one with severe asthma and another with a small child with severe uncontrolled asthma. These staff are scared and worried, and don’t want to come to work, but can’t afford to stay home.
The clinic refused to be proactive. In their defence it is a big corporation, so I am not sure how much the corporation and higher management played a role in what was ‘allowed’ or ‘not-allowed’… but as of March 24th, well into this trouble, they were still seeing ‘routine’ appointments, and just starting to trial contactless consults. The worst and most frustrating part was that they were doing everything in half-measures, and making excuses along the way.
I no longer TRUST this employer to put in measures that will decrease my risk of exposure. I need to remain ‘unexposed’ in order to support my family, and also to not be a liability to my other clinic, not to mention social responsibility…
Also, being a locum and mainly working at two different clinics, I felt a responsibility to my other employer that WAS putting in measures, that WAS looking after the staff, and trying to do everything they could to ensure they stay open and don’t have staff exposed. I put my loyalty to the clinic that was taking appropriate measures, over the loyalty to the clinic that wasn’t taking appropriate measures.
“I don’t want the staff to panic”…
One of the big excuses to not jump to what they considered ‘extreme measures’ (even though at this point most of the major centres and universities in the same city were doing this, along with the majority of clinics in many other countries) was “I don’t want the staff to panic”….
Staff panic when there is continuous change, uncertainty, and lack of strong leadership. A manager in these times needs to stand up, say “this is what we are doing”, and implement a change that can be put in place and maintained… so that the staff and clients don’t have a different story every day. They also need a leader that they can trust to advocate for them to both clients, and upper management. A leader that is displaying a ‘wishy-washy’ front, is one that is going to lead to panic.
A Microcosm of The Clinic:
I also feel, amid talking with many many colleagues who are associates, nurses, vets, owners, and managers… that this crisis is displaying a MICROCOSM of the clinic as a whole. Clinics that are well managed, well owned, have repeatedly displayed valuing their staff, have happy staff and have prioritized staff in day-to-day function, are the ones that, by majority, are putting their staff safety as a priority now. They are also the clinics where the staff are being flexible, understanding, and working as a team to get through this crisis.
Let's Get Personal
I have seen this personally between my two places of employment. My one clinic, where I am dropping the shifts, has repeatedly had trouble maintaining staff, do not listen or implement ideas from the staff, and have general feelings of ill-will towards managers. And this isn’t to say that the managers aren’t trying their best, I know they are… and not being in that management position I cannot say what exactly is happening with upper management… but the end result is a dysfunctional clinic where clients are put before staff, profit is put before staff, and training is essentially non-existent. The result is high staff turnover, chronic staffing vacancies, and dissatisfied employees. Since I only locum at that clinic intermittently, and only do overnights, I can avoid most of this dysfunction, but have been frustrated repeatedly in the past when I try to help the clinic improve (patient care, staff care, charge capture, protocols, estimates, etc) and just hit wall after wall.
My other main clinic is the opposite. Despite the recruitment crisis we are in, this emergency clinic is constantly being forwarded resumes from vets, can quickly fill most shifts, is supportive to staff, and has immense loyalty to staff. They are doing significantly better financially than other emergency centres in the same city, have lower fees to clients, and pay vets better than most centres. The management is amazing… and it shows. It shows in this crisis. They were proactive, they put the staff safety as a priority, and were proactive in getting cohort and contactless consults on board. The response from the staff have been amazing as well, all being flexible to move schedules and working conditions so that we can all move forward as a team to function during this process. The loyalty they have displayed to staff has been repaid by staff loyalty and flexibility in this crisis.
Speaking with other colleagues, those clinics where staff were happy previously are much more willing to be flexible, loyal, and adapt along with the clinic. I recently spoke with a colleague who said “I was due for another pay rise this month, I’m not sure if it will happen now… but that’s ok. I would rather we all keep our jobs and function as a clinic than get a raise right now.” This vet has been shown repeated loyalty by their clinic, a safe and supportive work environment, and that loyalty is being paid back!
Speaking with a clinic owner that is putting in measures to protect staff and try to stay open…“I am hoping to break even this year with the business and not lose money, but if I can keep all my staff paid and do the right thing for society, even if the business takes a loss, it’s worth it.” These two examples of both staff and owner, willing to personally sacrifice for one another, shows the importance of this loyalty.
This COVID Crisis is just putting, on grand display, the undercurrents of these clinics. This crisis has displayed so spectacularly WHY it is important for managers/owners to value and support staff in general. Vets will change clinics from this crisis, clients will change clinics from this crisis, some clinics will thrive and come out the other side OK, and some clinics will close… luck will play a part in this, but management style will play a huge part.
1. We are strongly advocating to be kept “essential”… we should be proving to the governments we are serious about social distancing and being part of the solution, not just doing nothing and waiting until we are told what we have to do. Be proactive and prove that vets can be trusted to operate in a way that doesn’t put human health at risk.
2. Clinics that don’t get on board with social distancing, or cohorting staff will close down… someone will be exposed or test positive, and all of their contacts will need to self-isolate. If you increase exposure to your staff your chances of this occurring increases every day. If you haven’t cohorted staff, and if you haven’t decreased this exposure risk… your business will close due to all staff self-isolating. If you are a manager- think, be proactive, and be progressive about getting measures on board. This is the best way to stay open, protect your staff, and continue to provide care to our patients! Even if your only goal is financial… the best way to protect your business is to take ‘extreme’ measures. See the blog on KICK ASS during COVID
for more details on what your clinic can do!
So, overall, in this time of crisis, it is still important to value your staff. Staff that have been shown loyalty will pay that back, and managers/owners that have been loyal, supportive and overall good at valuing staff will be getting the return on their dividends.
If you are a manager, you can start TODAY!
Start, right now, to show your staff that you are putting their safety first, and that you are progressive and proactive, and are willing to be the STRONG LEADER they need to implement measures to protect them, financially and medically!
Also, as a whole, the vet community, whether you are staff, nurse, vet, manager, owner… let’s do our part and prove to the governments that we are taking this seriously and can be trusted to manage our clients well to limit contact… as this will increase our chances of being deemed “essential.”
Write to your country’s board (AVA, AVMA, CVMA, BVA, etc.) asking them to push for all clinics to go to emergency consults only, and complete contactless consults…
“I, ___(insert name and registration number here)_______, am writing to request that _____(name of governing body)_______ advocate that all clinics move to contactless consults, and reduce services to emergency services only. In this way we can show governments our dedication to protecting both human and animal health.”
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM
Published March 24th, 2020
Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!
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