Musings of a Veterinarian

Archive for February 17th, 2010

When Personal Life Interferes with Work

February 17, 2010 By: Dr. K Category: Practice Management

I like to think I can separate my personal life from my professional life, but let’s admit it, we’re all guilty of letting emotions roll over from home to work and vice versa. When personal life drama spills into work everyone is affected. From patient care to interpersonal relationships, the entire practice feels the impact.  Everyone has a personal struggle that affects work occasionally, but what do we do when that person’s problem becomes the practice’s problem?

Gossip Solutions: Veterinary hospital staff is predominantly made up of women. My various experiences with large groups of women leads me to believe that, no matter where you are or what the mix of personalities, conflict will arise. A wise businessman I know adopted a no gossip policy at work: first offense received a warning, second offense resulted in termination. The policy worked very well at stopping the behind-the-back sniping (at least in the office).  Additionally, veterinarians and higher-ups must lead by example. It’s pretty difficult to correct a toxic environment if those in control are polluting it.

Relationship/Family Drama Solutions: Break-ups and divorce have no place at work. A person can talk with coworkers, however, personal relationship problems should be kept under wraps. In addition, parents with small children should be prepared for a child’s illness. They should have open communication with the employer regarding missed work days. Employers can and should allow use of sick days, vacation time, and/or unpaid time off for parents to care for sick children. However, at-will employees who repeatedly fail to show up at work are at risk for termination. Businesses require reliable help to operate properly.

Illness: Employees dealing with extended illness require us to explore our options. Nobody asks for cancer. Most reasonable small business owners will bend over backwards to accommodate ill employees as they seek treatment. There can come a time when an employer considers termination. Terminating an employee simply due to a diagnosis of cancer or disability is unethical but may not be illegal depending on employment agreements. At-will contracts allow employers to dismiss employees for any reason, extended illness and inability to perform duties included. Many employer contracts allow for legal termination if the employee cannot work for a period longer than two months.

The biggest problems arise when the illness prevents the employee from performing his/her normal duties. These employees can be reassigned different tasks in most cases. A bigger issue comes when the use of medications, fatigue, or lack of mental clarity directly affect performance. Small mistakes are forgivable. Bigger mistakes affecting client and patient care directly affect the quality of care and economics of the practice. These situations warrant medical leave and need delicate handling. Employers, though simply looking out for the best interest of the practice, can appear calloused and uncaring if they don’t make it apparent this is a professional issue and not a personal one.

Termination is a final option. Unfair? Probably. Legal? Most likely. Necessary? Maybe. Difficult? Absolutely.