Royal Canin

The Workaholic Boss

Genie Bishop DVM, VHSC & Susan Harris, MSSW,LCSW,VSW

Lisa is an experienced technician in a small animal practice. The owner, Dr. Leeds, is a very meticulous veterinarian and as a result, doesn’t finish his treatments until well after the clinic closes.

Lisa has children to pick up from daycare, but she feels torn. Other members of the staff do not have the family obligations she does and stay with Dr. Leeds until he’s done. Lisa feels that she is not considered a team player and worries that other staff members may talk about her when she leaves to get her children.

What should she do?

Workaholic Boss

Clarify Her Schedule

First, she needs to clarify her schedule with her employer. If this is an ongoing issue, and the hours are extending past what was agreed upon, this is not what she signed on for even though she wants to be considered a team player. Many techs are leaving the profession due to the lack of work/life balance. If an employer has assigned her the hours of 8 to 5, even though other employees want to stay later to help out after their shifts end, she shouldn’t be fearful of not doing so. If this doctor chronically runs late, holding staff members “captive,” perhaps one person could be assigned each day to assist him on a rotating schedule. Maybe Lisa occasionally could take a turn when her child duties are covered.  Volunteering for this extra work would need to be compensated and cleared with clinic management.

Lisa also needs to be sure her work at the clinic is solid and above reproach, leaving no room for others to criticize her.

Emergencies happen in clinics, and in case of a major one, Lisa should consider having a backup plan for the occasional impossible situation. And if she is asked afterwards why she can’t, she needs to explain that it is not possible except on rare occasions.

Align Team Values and Strengths

Veterinary staff members as a rule are loyal, dedicated and self-sacrificing for the benefit of their patients, but these personality traits can lead to personality disputes, lack of work/life balance and burnout.

This is a common scenario in so many veterinary care practices, and it requires a shared understanding of policies and expectations.  For example, does “team player” mean staying past regular work hours? This team may benefit from frequent huddles to discuss values and strengths, ending with gratitude shoutouts to boost morale. Dr. Leeds’ attitudes and work habits and how they are perceived should also be addressed. In some situations veterinarians experience “imposter phenomenon” (thoughts of being deficient) and could benefit from the team expressing that work performed within normal hours is “enough.” In other instances, veterinarians have difficulty managing time due to being overly optimistic in what they can accomplish in each day.  Calling this out may help Dr. Leeds adjust his expectations of himself and others.


Ensure Boundaries Are Clear

Lisa needs to be clear about her boundaries.  Many times boundaries come from the point of view of what is unacceptable – what we won't do. This framework of "no" creates stress from the outset, as it drives the mindset of "not enough." Redefining our boundaries as what we can do and what is possible allows for a more inclusive dialogue.

What can Lisa do?  She can let Dr. Leeds know an hour or so in advance that she plans to leave the clinic in accordance with the schedule. She can assist others to also leave in a timely manner by completing checklists and helping prepare for the end of the day. She can make arrangements for the occasional times when there is a need to stay late, recognizing this as the exception.