The New Balancing Act: Work-Life Balance Can Be Difficult. Seek to Integrate Instead

Today’s workforce is operating in a unique environment. We are always on, always connected—unplugging even for a day is difficult. Instead of struggling to balance, strive to “integrate” work and life.

Today’s workforce is operating in a unique
environment. We are always on, always
connected—unplugging even for a day is difficult.

by Louise Dunn

Work-life balance is a term that has been in use since the 1980s. It has been applied to discussions about stress management, burnout prevention, and time management for both professional and personal interests.

However, it is no longer relevant to today’s workforce. Just look at where we were two decades ago. According to a 2000 US Census Bureau report, just over 51% of households had a personal computer, and only 41% had internet access. The iPod and MP3 players were on the rise, and smartphones were just making PDA functions and internet access standard (with GPS only available on the high-end models). Keeping work separate from life was more effortless 20 years ago.

But today, things are different. Eric Garcia, CEO of Simply Done Tech Solutions, points out that while our lives are more efficient than ever, all that comes at a price.

“In 2020, we can get more done in 24 hours than we once would have ever thought possible,” Garcia said. “There’s only one problem here. You might just be moving so fast that you can hardly taste your lunch or even slow down by the time you get to dinner! The frenetic lifestyle brought on by instantaneous internet access may put us ahead by leaps and bounds when it comes to doing our work, but it can also wind us up and throw us into an endless maze of never-ending tasks.”

This leaves us in a strange situation, Garcia said, where we are increasing our efficiency but still dissatisfied and always striving to do even more.

“Many of us wind up multitasking to improve our efficiency while still responding to texts in between emails and trying to catch up on an interesting Huffington Post article with the leftover minutes before our next appointment,” he said.

Efficiency Versus Sanity

Today’s workforce is operating in a unique environment. We are always on, always connected—unplugging even for a day is difficult. The digital transformation of businesses has affected our ability to separate professional work and personal life.

Trying to achieve “balance” means that one must be able to separate the two, shutting one off when engaging in the other. In today’s connected environment, it is unrealistic to think that work life and personal life will not intermingle. Instead of struggling to balance, strive to “integrate” work and life. Work-life integration means the blending or intermingling of these two areas.

Work-life integration does not mean demanding that employees answer emails and text messages when they are on vacation, nor does it mean a total lack of structure. It does mean allowing a connection between work life and personal life. It is about formulating a plan and providing clear expectations to the team about work flexibility (e.g., create a no-guilt unplug schedule, leave work early, answer calls or texts remotely, engage in cross-functional work, choose between different work perks or benefit options).

“In France, the labor union now prevents employees from being required to answer emails, texts, and phone calls after hours,” Garcia said. “We might be able to learn a lesson here to value and respect our employees’ time away from the practice. This alone will be a highly sought-after benefit for those seeking employment with a veterinary practice that respects these boundaries.”

Lest you scoff at the idea of work-life integration, consider the results of numerous studies that show the benefits of work-life integration policies for improving employee morale, engagement, and productivity. When a business focuses on work-life integration, it can gain a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent.

Regardless of whether we want to accept it, we are in the service business. The service is to provide care to our patients and clients. You need a healthy team that believes in this service. Each person’s technical abilities should be a given. With so many industry metrics concentrating on client and service numbers, the team can easily be ignored. Yet the team matters. It has an effect on clients—from the client’s perception of medical care and customer service, to the perception of the hospital’s atmosphere and staff personalities. With such an important role, team morale, engagement, and productivity warrant equal attention. As Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Group, said, “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

“Overworked, tired staff can be a big issue. People have to have sufficient time off.”
—TEMPLE GRANDIN, PHD

In the Veterinary Setting

So what can a veterinary practice do to address the work-life integration issue? Perhaps the first hurdle to clear is for each individual to recognize their priorities and find their ideal work environment. Kathryn Primm, DVM, CVPM, owner of AAHA-accredited Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, notes that there is a problem with not feeling content where one is. There seems to be a constant drive to look for greener grass, which can cause associates to feel like servants and owners to feel as if no one works as hard as they do. Sometimes the fit is not right, and it is vital to understand oneself.

To assist everyone with recognizing priorities and qualities of the ideal work environment, take action during the hiring and employment processes.

Build questions into the interview process to find out what the prospective employee is looking for in an employer.

Take the “temperature” of the culture and get potential ideas to improve work-life integration by regularly surveying the team (SurveyMonkey has a survey to get you started at surveymonkey.com/mp/work-life-balance-survey-template).

Next, the business needs to assess policies that can allow for work-life integration without harming patient care, client service, or business performance. Overburdened team members can adversely affect patient care, says Temple Grandin, PhD, Colorado State University professor, and consultant to the livestock industry.

“In my work with cattle, I have observed that overworked, tired staff can be a big issue,” Grandin said. “People have to have sufficient time off.”

It is important to understand that each business is unique—and each team is unique. Your team is likely composed of four generations—and each generation, as well as each person, has individual needs. There are those with young children, others involved in caring for elderly parents, some dealing with health issues, and others looking to advance in their career. The point is that each business must assess the needs of the team and create a work-life integration policy that benefits everyone.

Nan Boss, DVM, of AAHA-accredited Best Friends Veterinary Center in Grafton, Wisconsin, has done just that. She has set up policies for team members to bring a child to work, leave for a doctor appointment and come back to work, and accommodate team members when a health issue limits the ability to work certain hours or perform specific tasks. As Boss sees it, “Work-life integration gets you loyalty.”

Finally, veterinary practices must not be fearful of implementing digital transformation in patient care and client services. The technology of today, while causing some of the blurring of lines between work life and personal life, also provides tools to enable employees to be more productive, especially now in the postpandemic era.

Bruce Truman, vice president of sales and marketing at BabelBark, couldn’t agree more.

According to Truman, veterinary practices have an opportunity to embrace digital transformation to increase employee productivity, job satisfaction, and wellbeing. “Look at who you are hiring—many of them are millennials [who] have grown up in a digital world,” he said. “You must not only provide a digitally transformed practice to engage clients but also to engage and support your entire care team.”

Implementing work-life integration policies empowers the team to blend aspects of work life and personal life—not to choose one over the other to the detriment of the individual, their family, or the business. When the company and the team work together to develop an integration plan, everyone wins. 

Tips for Enhancing Work-Life Integration

  • Flexible working hours
  • Increased paid time off—encourage using it
  • In-office yoga, exercise, or walking clubs
  • Bring your child to work after school
  • Performing specific work tasks from home (e.g., social media, virtual care, remote monitoring)
  • Education opportunities, tuition-reimbursement programs
  • Concierge service for employee needs (e.g., house repairs, childcare, eldercare, auto repair or maintenance, tax preparation, estate planning, shopping)
  • Family-care programs (e.g., childcare and eldercare, family coaching)
  • Wellbeing services (social, financial, physical, community, and career)
  • Sponsor and participate in community activities and social causes (paid time off to volunteer)
Louise Dunn is owner of Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting. Find her online at snowgoosevet.com.

 

Photo credits: ©iStock.com/Ja_inter, ©iStock.com/Ponomariova_Maria

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