By Jodi Schafer, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
I run a very busy practice, but it wasn’t always this way. It took us several years and a lot of hard work to build to this point and now that we are here I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize our success. We are go, go, go all day long (which I love!), but I am worried I might be burning my staff out. Many of them hired in when the pace was much slower and I’ve heard more grumbling lately when we have to work through lunch or stay late for an emergency appointment. Patient care comes first to me, but I’ve been in this industry long enough to know that you can’t provide quality care without good people around you. How can I make my current staff see this increase in business as a good thing rather than a nuisance? I don’t want to lose a good employee, but I don’t want to turn away patients either.
I’ve heard it said that being busy is a good problem to have and while you may agree with this statement, your staff may feel differently. Where you see a full/overbooked schedule and think – revenue, fulfillment, excitement – your staff see missed lunches, limited bathroom breaks and increased daycare costs for late pick-up times. So it’s not about ‘making staff see an increase in business as a good thing’ as much as it’s about seeing the workload from their point of view and respecting the efforts and sacrifices they make to meet the increased scheduling demands. It’s the small things that can lead to a culture of respect in a busy environment rather than one of resentment and unhappiness.
Medicine is mentally taxing and at times, physically exhausting work. I don’t have to tell you that. While you are busy running from patient to patient, it is easy to get tunnel vision and think that you are the busiest person in the practice. However, your clinical staff are keeping pace. When they are not in the room with you, they are stocking supplies, rooming patients, taking vitals and/or performing procedures, charting, answering patient questions, etc. If you fail to take these other duties into consideration when you set your scheduling expectations, you can inadvertently be eliminating any downtime for bathroom breaks, a quick drink of water or a small bite to eat. Before you know it, staff feel like their basic needs aren’t being met, which leads to feeling taken advantage of. Not good.
So, how do you balance the needs of your staff with the busy patient schedule you desire? Well, you start by asking…not telling. If your employees have been with you for a while (as yours have), they probably attribute some of your success to their own hard work. They see themselves as part of the practice and they care about the patients just as much as you do. Your ‘good employees’ are willing to make sacrifices when they can, but they want you to ‘ask’ rather than ‘assume’ when a situation requires them to go above and beyond. It comes down to respect. When you show respect for their time, their efforts and their personal commitments, you earn their respect in return. They have to follow you because they want to…not because they have to. That’s the difference between bossing and leading.
You can show respect for your employees’ efforts in simple ways. For example, when an emergency call comes in and you need to add a patient to the end of your day, try asking your staff if they are able to stay late rather than walking into the room and telling them, “We’re here until 7:00 p.m. tonight”. Asking rather than telling allows your employee to have a stake in the decision. If they are committed to you and to the practice they will say ‘yes’ more often than she says ‘no’. Another way to show respect for your staff’s time is by running ON TIME. Don’t let your love of chatting with patients or staff negatively impact the rest of the day’s schedule. Working through lunches and breaks can be necessary at times, but it shouldn’t become the status quo. Consider staggering lunch hours to give staff a breath of fresh air and a chance to decompress before hopping back into the torrid pace. They will be more effective and everyone (including you) will be happier for it! When you show you care for your employees as much as you care for your patients, you can have the best of both worlds.