Why & How Employers Should Care About Team Member Work–Life Balance

Heather Prendergast, RVT, CVPM, SPHR, Patterson Veterinary University, Las Cruces, New Mexico

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Why & How Employers Should Care About Team Member Work–Life Balance

Work‒life balance is defined as having a balance between work activities and activities that take place outside of work hours.1 Historically in veterinary medicine, balance has rarely existed, with practice owners and team members working as many as 50 to 60 hours per week.1

Even in today’s practices, work‒life balance may be discussed, but it remains elusive as owners who have always worked long hours still expect the same of their team. This expectation can potentially negatively impact the practice because team members may burn out and leave. 

The goal of veterinary practice owners is not to send team members home at the end of the day mentally exhausted and unable to care for their families—but it happens frequently. It is time to meaningfully address this issue and take care of the team that takes care of the practice. Exhausted team members who do not practice self-care cannot adequately care for patients or clients.

The Importance of Balance

Encouraging and implementing work‒life balance protocols decreases burnout and allows team members to leave the practice emotionally and physically charged to care for themselves and their family, and with the energy to engage in their hobbies, which help recharge the soul. Recharging decreases burnout, compassion fatigue, and even suicidal tendencies.2

It is important to recognize that recharging and achieving balance is an individual preference. Activities that recharge some may be disliked by others. For example, not all team members may like getting a massage, canoeing, or reading a book.

Promoting team member balance contributes to a good practice culture. Culture is defined as the “set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an organization.”3 When practice leaders exhibit balance, the team often models the same behavior. When a great culture exists, team members contribute to the practice goals, openly communicate, problem-solve, and become emotionally invested in the practice—improving client and patient care.

Added Rewards

Extra incentives or rewards offered by WellMP practices:

  • Additional flex time
  • Additional health insurance benefits
  • Additional vacation time
  • Additional continuing education
  • Bonuses
  • Disability insurance
  • Gift cards
  • Life insurance
  • Pet care benefits

SOURCE: Benchmarks 2017: A Study of Well-Managed Practices. Columbus, OH: WMPB; 2017:89.

Building Balance

Work‒life balance is an elusive goal for many veterinary professionals. One of the biggest pitfalls is feeling pressured to establish an equilibrium between them. The second is assuming that the definition of work‒life balance is the same for everyone, when in fact many factors play into someone’s definition (eg, personal demands [children, family], extracurricular activities, professional demands, personal expectations, generational differences). (See Characteristics of an Unbalanced Team.)

The workplace today includes 5 generations (ie, traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X, generation Y [millennials], and generation Z [iGeneration]), each with different definitions of work‒life balance,2 emphasizing the need to consider what balance means for each individual team member, rather than one standard definition.

Characteristics of an Unbalanced Team

  • Continuing education budget that does not include every team member
  • Exhausted individuals or team
  • Having to work overtime
  • Individual and/or team burnout
  • Poor practice culture
  • Team members, owners, or practice managers who do have not have any outside hobbies
  • Toxic team members

Start at the Top

Achieving balance starts with leadership and the understanding that not all team members are the same. Ask each team member his or her definition of work‒life balance and tailor benefits, paid time off, flex time, early/late/weekend shifts, and coaching sessions around each individual's needs. Tailoring benefits is easier than it may seem. Rather than offering one set of benefits for everyone, create an “a la carte” plan and assign a dollar value available for each team member. Team members can then choose benefits that fulfill their own personal work‒life balance needs. (See Extra Benefits.)

Education is one benefit that is often undervalued and overlooked, but building continuing education for everyone into the budget decreases burnout and reignites passion for the profession. Teams grow when the proper tools are provided.

If leaders expect to build balance in the team, they too must have balance. Each leader (eg, owners, managers, associate veterinarians) must define what balance means to him or her and lead by example.

Extra Benefits

A la carte benefits practices may consider:

  • Additional paid time off
  • Child care services
  • Concierge services
  • Continuing education
  • Discounts for pet care
  • Flex time
  • Gym memberships
  • Health insurance
  • Subscription to a meal service
  • Working remotely

Conclusion

There is no doubt that better work‒life balance enhances team member wellbeing, increases contributions to practice goals, and improves patient care. Create the opportunity to care for the team that cares for the practice.

1 Build balance into the practice culture by providing benefits that will be allocated according to each team member’s definition of work‒life balance.

2 Do not overlook continuing education as a benefit to every team member.

3 Make sure leaders and owners display how they balance work and play, because the rest of the team will model their behavior.

References

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