The job of veterinary professionals can be full-on and intense, with long days, high pressure and not much time left for leisure. Regular time off, for a decent stretch of at least two weeks, is an essential part of a long-term strategy of continuing to enjoy a career over many years. Different practices have varying policies on exactly how much time off is granted and when this can be taken.
Here are my top five rules to organising a practice successfully for Christmas holidays.
1. Have a clearly defined system with rules
Every vet practice, like any other business, needs to have a system for holiday requests which is understood by everyone working in the clinic. There are obvious ground rules – such as the amount of holiday each person can take, and the fact that only one (or two, or however many) is able to go away at a time – but there are many local rules that need to be specified. Examples include:
Who is the contact person for holiday requests?
What is the soonest that holiday requests can be put in
Who gets priority? Is it first come, first served?
What happens if an annual holiday allowance is not taken in time?
These aspects, and others are likely to be clearly defined in your workplace, but if you are not sure, then ask and find out as early as possible.
2. Have a calendar on the wall which is the gold standard
In our clinic, there are two master holiday calendars: one for vets, and one for nurses. All holiday requests are written on this as soon as they are made: this makes it easy for anyone to see, without even having to ask, exactly who is away and when they are absent. It makes it easy to plan holidays without having to ask the holiday administrator again and again about what’s available.
3. If extra Veterinary professional staff are needed, book well in advance
In many clinics, extra personnel in the form of locums are essential. While locums may be available reasonably easily for some parts of the year, the school holidays are prime time for locum demand, so getting one booked many months in advance is essential.
4. Create a “countdown to holidays guide” for vets and nurses
Most vets and nurses have their own cases that they are familiar with, and it’s important that these are handed over smoothly to the team for the period while the usual vet or nurse is absent on holiday. If this handover is done in an unstructured way, the last few days before a holiday starts can be highly stressful, with too much work to do in too little time. I’ve known some vets say that a holiday is hardly worth taking because they get so stressed leading up to their departure.
It can be helpful to write a simple one-page guide for professional staff, outlining simple steps that can be taken over the two weeks before going away on holidays. Early hand-over of chronic cases, thinking in advance about information that needs to be passed on, can remove much of the stress from the final 48 hours before your departure.
5. A half day off on the first day back from holidays eases the pressure of returning to work
While it’s stressful getting ready to go away on holiday, it can be even more stressful returning from a two-week break to have to cope with a long, busy, first day back. Your own cases may have been waiting for your return, and there may be a pile of emails and phone calls that need to be dealt with. My own practice has a policy of giving everyone a half day when they come back from holidays. This allows a smoother, calmer return to the busyness of our clinic. This may not be possible in every work place, but it’s important to remember that the focus should not just be getting through the work of the day: we all need to keep an eye on the long term, ensuring that everyone on the team feels valued and cared for.