Late night, come home. Work sucks, I know.
September 29, 2018 1:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning on talking to my boss about potential deal breaker issues in the workplace. What is the best way to go about doing this so that things actually change?

This is my first job since graduating from veterinary school in May. I mention this because compassion fatigue, burnout, and mental health issues are a big concern in my profession, and because this is my first time ever having to formally sit down and ask my boss for significant changes.

I have enjoyed my job so far and have not had any major issues up until more recently when several coworkers in the same position left the practice temporarily (maternity leave), or permanently (mental health, move, etc). This has resulted in myself and my coworkers taking on more workload and we are feeling a bit stretched thin. I would like to talk to my boss about current issues we are facing in a way that doesn’t seem whiny but DOES get the point across that the current situation is untenable. My boss has been receptive to making changes in the past, and I think he will be especially so now that they can’t afford to lose any more of us.

So, how do I do that? And how do I avoid this biting me in the ass later on when I ask for a raise next year (“Well you guys wanted to see fewer appointments so you didn’t generate enough revenue to earn a significant raise.”)?
posted by gumtree to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Be prepared for your boss to not be willing to change. I am in an entirely different field than yours, with different people, but I have found that this article reflects my experience.
posted by WCityMike at 1:51 PM on September 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yes, it's easiest to go into thi skind of negotiation if you know what your best alternative is if the negotiation fails.--probably working somewhere else. So if you're not up to actively job searching, you could at least doing some research, talking to former coworkers, etc., to figure out what your likely prospects are.

That's not a betrayal. You've got to eat. And if there's somebody out there who would likely pay you the same or better salary without this extra stress--then you're effectively donating those extra hours and dollars to your current employer. Which is not something they can reasonably expect you to do indefinitely.

That doesn't mean you should explicitly threaten to leave. It's just useful to have it in mind. For example, having some sort of minimum acceptable result from the conversation means you can avoid drawing it out if it's clear you're not going to get even that.
posted by floppyroofing at 2:12 PM on September 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I’m a vet. But in the UK, so the culture might be different.

Definitely be prepared for nothing to happen. Vets are martyrs and often seem to have a “suck it up, back in my day I saw 50 animals a day and was on call 24/7 and I loved it” type attitude.

Make the case for how the changes you propose will increase revenue. And the changes/proposals may not just be “hire more vets” it could be more support staff etc. More nurses (techs) can sometimes be more helpful than more vets.

I have unfortunately found the trend in the veterinary world (and other industries) is cutting staff is an easy cost-cutting measure, and increasingly the attitude is “well if you don’t like it, everyone’s replaceable.” I think that’s why giving concrete examples and solutions, with coatings if possible, is a strong way forward. That’s the only thing my bosses respond to.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 2:27 PM on September 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: My current plan is to try and explain the problems and provide some concrete solutions to my boss. I'm struggling on the part about money--while I can say "doing x, y, and z will increase revenue" I don't actually know what the practice needs to keep the lights on, afford another technician, etc. The practice manager (not my boss) who would know all of this is definitely resistant to change, and would dig her heels in if she got wind of this meeting.
posted by gumtree at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2018

Honestly? They can afford to “lose more of you” so I don’t think you should frame this in the form of complaints. Skip the complaints! Get straight to suggesting fresh ideas + touting the benefits of implementation!!

“What do you think of X idea? I did some research and it might increase profits 5% while streamling our appointment process.”

“I noticed if we shifted Brenda and Jake’s duties around, they would both be more efficient because of Y reason”

Etc., etc..

I think you should focus on changing your thinking and speaking patterns towards the positive because it will increase the chances for effective change to happen. (Find a friend to hear you vent;))
posted by jbenben at 3:20 PM on September 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Is there a way you can find a happy medium through some combination of what jbenben suggests + a new scheduling constraint that prevents you from staying past 5:30PM, say? Propose your great ideas, and completely separately enforce your boundaries.

Like "I'll be starting an intensive evening course in X [X = I dunno, French? especially great if you already speak some French, so when people ask you how it's going, you can say a few things in your fancy new accent] and won't be able to stay past 5:30 anymore. I'm letting you know now so you'll have a couple weeks to hire someone new, since I've been picking up So-and-So's workload since they left." Or you could have a family matter that requires you to arrive and leave at a reasonable hour. I assume you don't have kids, but what about an imaginary nephew who lives nearby you, and who you're newly responsible for taking to school and picking up? Or etc etc.
posted by tapir-whorf at 3:37 PM on September 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

How long is temporary and what has been done to backfill the positions? By appearing to get on fine without the coworkers on leave you are indirectly screwing them out their jobs.

I think everyone here is right about giving detailed suggestions, but overall the message I would keep returning to is: we were barely getting by, we lost people, we need to work together to fill that gap. The conversation needs to stick to that and not become a critical review of individual employees, etc. you were doing fine, you lost people, we need to find a way to fill the gap.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:06 PM on September 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have enjoyed my job so far and have not had any major issues up until more recently

This is your first job out of vet school and you’ve only been there four or maybe five months. I think you need to put in a little more time before demanding changes. If it doesn’t work out and you want to leave, they have their pick of recent grads, but you’ve got a resume that shows you only lasted a few months at your first gig. Give it a year before asking for changes or considering leaving.
posted by amro at 7:30 PM on September 29, 2018 [9 favorites]

This has resulted in myself and my coworkers taking on more workload and we are feeling a bit stretched thin.

This is the key! You're not the only person feeling this, so there's not need to go it alone. Talk to your co-workers first (especially if there are some who've been there longer than you and might have better perspective) and figure out what (if any) things to ask the boss, and wether to do it at a meeting, or have one person approach the boss, but figure it out TOGETHER, and BEFOREHAND. This is a more powerful position for y'all to be in, and it protects you from any weird workplace dynamics.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:56 PM on September 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

If your working conditions, hours and expected duties changed significantly from when you were interviewed and hired, without your consent, and this is treated as a new normal (rather than a temporary tough spot), then you have every right seek remedy for unjust treatment.

Sure, sing your positive ideas for change more loudly than your complaints if you think that brings you a tactical advantage, but don’t forget you are basically a victim of a bait-and-switch con here, and unless they apologize and offer remedy, you would do well to be pursuing other opportunities as of yesterday.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:36 PM on September 29, 2018

My current plan is to try and explain the problems and provide some concrete solutions to my boss. I'm struggling on the part about money--while I can say "doing x, y, and z will increase revenue" I don't actually know what the practice needs to keep the lights on, afford another technician, etc. The practice manager (not my boss) who would know all of this is definitely resistant to change, and would dig her heels in if she got wind of this meeting.

I don't see any reason for you to throw yourself in front of this train. You graduated 4.5 months ago, you are a baby in your profession and you are certainly not in any position to tell your boss how to run a business. This will only hurt you at this job and possibly at future jobs, if you get a reputation as a prima donna or unreasonable or unwilling to pitch in in a crisis. I mean, you've only been there 3.5 months right? How long can this situation have existed- half that time? You've been stretched thin for a month? I've been working full time for 22 years and my reaction to a complaint about that would be to roll my eyes and mutter "cry me a river, kid". I did two full jobs for a year one time. That happens in the real world, it's rarely possible to replace people immediately. You are brand new, you're going to get the crappy hours and the overtime, that's kind of how it works.

If there is a genuine issue affecting care or morale then the more senior staff are the ones who should be speaking up here, not you. If they're encouraging you in this, they are not being very honest or kind.

Just do your job, if you are overburdened or asked to do something you're not comfortable with or can't do- don't do it. Send an email saying "sorry Boss or Office Manager that I didn't see all the patients waiting today, I was unable to stay late today as I had a very important prior commitment" or "sorry boss, I did not feel qualified to do task X as I'm so new" and leave it at that. If clients complain, as they will, say "yes, we are short staffed but I'm really very new here so I'm going to refer you to our office manager, Alice to discuss your 4 hour wait " and then do that.
posted by fshgrl at 10:09 PM on September 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

You get to ask for more money or less work, not both. Which do you care about more?

Agree with Jon_Evil's suggestion to talk to others, including more senior staff, to get a sense of how this fits into bigger company trends. The fact that the practice manager would be pissed is a bit of a red flag to me.
posted by basalganglia at 12:02 AM on September 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

With a whopping total of four months professional experience I would be very reluctant to go and tell my boss how to run his business. There is a very good chance that my bright eyed, brilliant ideas are things people have thought about before and not implemented for good reasons.

So a more fruitful avenue may be working out what your boundaries are around working hrs and to enforce those, if this becomes a more long term problem. But from what you say it has only been a very short while. Are they searching for maternity cover for example and this is clearly a temporary thing? Or have they really said we’ll just muddle through? If the latter they can also deal with the complaints about long waits and not being able to be seen for non emergency issues.

That would also be a legitimate point to discuss, in terms of ‘I am clearly willing to be flexible and willing to help out in the current staff shortage but I do have other commitments and can not work x amount of overtime permanently. What is your timeline for filling these vacancies and how can we work out sustainable workloads in the meantime?’ That is a legitimate question but may still not get you anywhere.

What is the job market like in your area and what are expectations around working hours at other practices? Would changing jobs after such a short period really help you here?
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:58 AM on September 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is your boss already aware that people (I assume it's everyone and not just you—you've sounded out your coworkers, right?) are feeling stretched too thin? It may seem obvious to you but maybe not to your boss, especially if they've been through times like this before which, if they've been practicing for a while, they probably have. You need to figure out what your boss is already thinking before you go in and try to make changes. Maybe they don't think that the current situation is a problem at all, or maybe they're already on top of this and are actively working to hire more staff.

Does your workplace have a culture that makes it easy to share your opinions and ideas about the business? Do you have informal moments with your boss where you feel like it's OK to just sort of "shoot the shit" about work stuff? Do you normally feel like you can speak reasonably freely about the business to them and be listened to, even if their ultimate decision is not the one you would have made? In short, is there a non-confrontational channel that you could use to bring this stuff up?

Just as an example, in my workplace it would be pretty easy. I actually happen to work in the same room as my boss, so I would just wait until a moment when neither of us seemed especially busy and say, "Hey, what are we doing about the fact that we just lost Bob, Joe, and Mary over the last three months, and Jane and Emily are out on maternity leave until December? It's not that I can't use the hours, but I feel like everyone's operating at like 120% capacity and I don't think that's going to work forever." To which my boss would probably reply that he'd been talking about that with his boss, and that they were working on hiring more staff but it would take a while. Then depending on how I felt about that, I might ask if there was any way that we could shuffle people's duties around a bit to help balance out the extra load in the meantime, or give other suggestions about what we might do to make things more bearable. If I made three decent suggestions, I'd expect to get at least a partial "yes" on maybe two of them, or if it was something that affected more than just me then maybe my boss would decide to hold a meeting with the affected employees to come up with strategies for getting through this rough patch while new hires were being brought on board and up to speed.

I'm sure you're aware that your workplace needs a certain minimum amount of staff coverage to be able to run properly and turn a profit. On some level that means that if you're understaffed, the remaining staff will have to work harder. If your boss is basically competent, they know this as well. There's a reason why when you started working there they had more people than they do now—it's because the folks running the business thought that that was about the right amount of staff for the level of coverage they needed. They probably are well aware that they are understaffed, so try to approach this on the basis of wanting to find out what is already being done, rather than under the assumption that nothing is being done and that they need you to tell them what they should do. In the process, you'll be providing them with a soft alert that the current staffing shortage is making itself felt and that the situation may be becoming more urgent.

Do come prepared with ideas for providing some relief, but know that, "We should schedule fewer appointments and cut our hours," is going to be a tough sell because it would directly impact the company's bottom line in a very significant way. I would focus on finding short-term solutions to mitigate the effects of the shortage while the company hires more staff and waits for existing staff to return from maternity leave. Maybe there are some areas where people's hours could be trimmed without it causing too much pain, but you're more likely to find success if you propose strategies along the lines of working more efficiently, balancing workloads across the staff, streamlining SOPs to allow for acceptable shortcuts, and supporting staff so that they can work more with less burnout risk.

Possibly they could also hire some temp workers—for instance, if you currently have veterinary staff handling some of the administrative work, they might be able to hire an administrative temp and allow the veterinary people to focus more on their core duties. Possibly they could also hire veterinary temps (if that's even a thing) with an eye to keeping them long-term if they turn out to be a good fit. My workplace is doing this with electricians and plumbers right now, because there's a statewide shortage in both trades, we need them badly, and our existing referral-based hiring strategy hasn't been sufficient. It's worked out pretty well for us so far (we found an electrician who probably wouldn't have ordinarily considered applying to our type of company but who likes us and is a good fit for us and will probably become a permanent hire once his temp period runs out) and maybe it would work for your company too. But I wouldn't suggest it in terms of, "This is what I think we should do." Rather, I'd phrase it as, "Have we considered doing this?" Give your boss some credit for already being aware of the problem. At very least it will allow them to save face and not feel attacked, which will make them much more receptive to your suggestions.

Good luck!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:05 AM on September 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'll give some specific advice, but first I wanted to ask some clarifying questions which will hopefully allow me to give even better advice.
  • What does "more workload" mean specifically in terms of hours worked before and after? From your description it's hard to tell if you went from 35 hours a week to 40 and you're unhappy about that, or if you've gone from 60 hours a week to 80 and are going to break if you have to keep it up another week. I suspect the answer is somewhere in between, but I'd like to know specifically where on the spectrum it falls.
  • Have you worked full time supporting yourself before? I'm not talking about internships, summer jobs, or part time work during school. Essentially I'm asking whether you took time off between college and vet school to work. I ask because I've observed that many new grads are surprised and disappointed when they discover the realities of working life. I'd like to know what baseline you're comparing this job to.
OK. Specific advice I feel I can give without knowing anything more:
  • First, DO NOT threaten to quit at this time. There may come a time for that, but you're not there yet. My rule of thumb is not to resort to this ultimatum unless you're willing to accept a 50% chance you'll be fired on the spot. Threatening to quit irrevocably changes your relationship with your employer. Don't do this until you've laid the groundwork to land on your feet if you have to leave.
  • Focus on the objective symptoms you are experiencing. Do not assume that you know the underlying causes. There may be things going on that you're not aware of. Say things like, "These two colleagues left and now I am working X more hours per week," "Wait times have increased by 50%," or "I am feeling very stressed and unhappy." Your boss cannot dispute these things.
  • Prep beforehand, and get clear on what you're going to say, and what you're NOT going to say under any circumstances. This is important because it's easy to think you know what you're going to say, but then things get emotional and you blurt out something you regret. Make sure you have your talking points to fall back on.
  • Be prepared for things to go poorly. If, after presenting your objective facts, it's clear that your boss is not receptive, plan to extricate yourself from the meeting quickly and minimize the amount of damage done to the relationship. Avoid arguing. It will not convince your boss, and it will make your situation worse.
  • Conversely, be prepared for it to go well. If your boss is receptive, be prepared to suggest some things you think will help. This is your golden opportunity to tell your boss exactly what you want. Don't squander it. Make sure you are crisp and clear on the specific, concrete actions you want taken. At the same time, don't get overly attached to these suggestions. If your boss accepts that there is a problem but rejects your solutions, that's fine as long as he/she comes up with alternative solutions that work.

posted by tom_r at 3:29 PM on September 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

Some costs you can estimate - you probably have a rough idea what a tech’s salary is, a vet’s salary, and a receptionist’s salary.

So for example, in my own workplace I’ve had issues with not having enough nurses (techs) meaning that myself and my colleague (the two vets) have been having to do nurse tasks (monitoring anaesthetics, cleaning up, doing insurance claims) instead of having lunch, doing callbacks, etc. Most days we stay late and some days have to rebook appointments whilst procedures run late. This means that consciously and subconsciously we recommend less procedures to clients because we literally don’t have time to do them (eg instead of radiographing a lame dog immediately, we might trial NSAID for a few days first). I approached my boss with these realities and rough costings (eg I think we could do £2000 more work a week for £800 costs a week and keep staff and clients happier in the process, blah blah blah). Eventually we got more nurses...but not immediately. Months and months later, but calm discussions of the £££ planted the seed.

That example probably doesn’t apply to you, so give examples of where you are spending time doing non-vet tasks (if you are), examples of client complaints, clinical near-misses and mistakes, and the really egregious situations you’ve been in (eg “I worked from 8:30 to 8:30 with no break 4 out of 5 days the last 4 weeks, Rachel had a breakdown last week and was in tears,”) etc, and then explain how having more techs, vets etc would help other than purely “this is too hard”. I’m sure it is unfair and it sucks and it should be enough saying how the workload is affecting you but it just won’t be. You need to explain how spending more money on staff salaries will allow you to use your time to do other tasks that make more revenue or keep clients happier (creating more revenue in the long run).

Older vets just don’t understand how difficult it is making clients happy in 2018. Clients expect high standards and we can provide them, but this involves more time and effort. Dr Boss is probably used to just saying “Yup, we need to do x” and the clients lapping it up. He doesn’t realise that young, female vets just can’t do that. We need to guide and explain to clients what we are recommending and why, and that takes time and mental effort. So maybe touching on that topic if appropriate might help too. Maybe!

Finally, I hate to be a downer again, but traditionally in most practices the winter months are the quiter months, so consider acknowledging this and framing it as something that will need to be addressed next spring, or just maybe wait until then (if I’m being honest, that’s what I would do...wait it out a bit longer).

Good luck. It’s not often a great profession for work-life balance, and as I said before, rarely have these type of conversations gone anywhere for me (I’m 9 years out). I’m 8 months pregnant and despite being in the UK with its fairly good health and safety laws I still am expected to work 12-13 hour days with no break if needed. This is not a “suck it up” statement, just unfortunately reality as I’ve seen it (again, in the UK but I think the issues of the profession are universal).
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 8:55 PM on September 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Remember, it's very likely your boss is right now posting on another forum like this : "I can't hire and keep enough veterinarians - how can I keep my doctors and make my hospital attractive to new hires?"

Also remember, every worker in every job since the beginning of time has been asking for less work hours and more pay, so when it's raised in that vague whiny way, management just tunes out completely. If they give people raises or better hours *just for the asking*, where will it end? It doesn't! So they might as well not start. That's why they cover their ears and go "bla bla bla." (To be really, really honest, they have all been told that, if they push the employee just a little more, the employee will dig deeper and squeeze out just a little more for them, end of story, so forget with the pay and hours. )

So this is what you do during your review. You give them a list of specific things you are doing to keep them running smoothly. Then you give a list of specific things they can do to keep you running smoothly, i.e. from burning out. Say things to tell them you're engaged, working hard, and that you're a Problem Solver.

Set up a time and give an well-planned update. You can do it in this format:
1. Strengths: In the past X months, I've gotten better at Y procedures, Z surgeries, and I am doing A, B, and C much faster now. Colleague M has really helped and supported me, what a great team you've brought together. Hooray for all.
2. Weaknesses: I'd like to learn how to do K procedures and I'd like to do better at making calls and writing records consistently and quickly. Do you have anything you'd like me to do differently? I'm happy to listen. OK, point well taken, I'll work on those, and try to do things that way instead.
3. Opportunities: I'd like to train the staff to do a lot of the things I'm having to do now, so that we can focus on doctors doing doctor things. Also, here are a few practice gems that help other hospitals run better; are these ideas you'd like me to implement? Can I count on your support?
4. Plan. This hospital has so much opportunity for growth and I want to help it succeed. I'm planning training for me in areas L and M. Oh, the doctors on leave - are you getting relief doctors to cover the rest? I'd love to help recruit and attract new colleagues.
Now, I do have to say that some days I feel like I am nearing the road to burnout. I feel that I can work 10 hours shift no problem, with an occasional 12 hours for an emergency, but definitely not more than 60 hours a week. Doing 7 days in a row is right out. (Lay out exactly what you can comfortably handle for the long run). I really like this job and I'd like to avoid burnout. Can I have your help in supporting these parameters? What are your thoughts? Can we work together to come up with limits that works in the long run?

By now they know you're dedicated, serious, hard-working but also working smart, and in for the long haul.

Talk together, lay out what you need, then hammer out an actionable item, probably short of your ideal. No problem - once you get boundaries, you can adjust them. Much better than no boundaries. Get their buy-in, start setting boundaries, and let the manager feel like they succeeded in motivating and keeping you.

Finally note: the staff (receptionists and techs) are your team. Even though they don't "work" for you unofficially, they are there to support you in your role. If you're nice to them and ask them nicely for what you need, then train them to anticipate your needs, you can get a lot of sh*t done.

This is a fairly unique job market with a high barrier to entry and a skillset that transfers well from workplace to workplace. We also work at the very stressful intersection between emotional money. Compassion fatigue is real. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. You'll do great!

Tl;dr sell your self, then do the ask.
posted by dum spiro spero at 1:03 AM on October 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd assume your boss knows the office is really understaffed right now (because 3 people just left) and very much wants to fix this problem by getting things back to the way they were, before any of the clients get frustrated with the clinic performance and you get a bad reputation. If you go in saying "this is untenable, you've got to make some changes!" you probably won't sound like you're trying to help, because boss probably knows that.

It's ok to say that the workload is really heavy right now, and that this doesn't feel like a long-term sustainable path - but remember that this not a team-coworkers vs team-boss showdown, but in fact a team-office vs the world challenge, and you're trying to help. You might be trying to help your boss understand what the team needs for you to keep up your best work on team office, but you're still on the boss's team. Remember that the real solution (hiring) might take a while. So you can discuss short-term patches like interns, and consolation prizes like a new coffeemaker, and anything concrete that you can think of (changes in hours/scheduling). I'd be careful about making business suggestions (like booking fewer appointments) but you could carefully ask why they choose to do things the way they do.

Ask questions like: What's your hiring plan for replacing A-who-quit and B-who-moved? If we filled those positions would we still be looking for a temp to cover C-on-maternity leave? What's the timeline for hiring those replacements? Would it make sense to hire a temp for office work or get student interns while we're posting the permanent jobs? How can I help you - since I just graduated, I could check with my friends from vet school, and I can make sure professors know we're hiring.
posted by aimedwander at 7:38 AM on October 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Skincare/haircare when you've got really hard tap...   |   Is it OK to feed my cat Deck Hand Premium Cat Food... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.