“I am sorry, I cannot come in today”

Today, as I was mind-wandering and thinking about writing on my “Busy” theme, I started to think about Sundays’ past. Not just Sundays but many days over the years of owning a business. That call that every business owner knows well. It was always worse on a Sunday. I wonder if it is because it broke into the precious weekend hours that I valued and guarded. And here I was thrust back into work with one of my staff on the other end, telling me that they or someone they care for is unwell and they are unable to come in tomorrow. That signals the end of the weekend. I am back at work. These days I have a practice manager, whose job is to field the calls and organise the diary but I remember them well!

“I am sorry, I cannot come in today” are words that will evoke a response in any business owner. From this moment, we are in problem-solving mode. Firstly checking in and finding out if our employee is okay, to working out how to adjust and modify the day to ensure the least disruption to patients.

For the admin team, this means having their priority and to-do list modified. They start their day with what can be difficult calls to patients, letting them know that their appointment will need to be rescheduled to another time or with another therapist. Sometimes people are unhappy or frustrated about the disruption to their treatment or their day. The admin team needs to be caring and understanding to be part of the solution for the patient when the solutions are less than perfect. Check-in with them, how the calls and reschedules have gone. Provide support, reassurance, and guidance if required.

The absence of a clinical team member will result in another therapist having to step up, fill gaps in their lists, or perhaps even work a long day. They likely had their day planned and were psychologically and physically prepared for their patients. Now, they will have a full list, including several people that they have never seen before. To get the history, an understanding of what is going on, reading previous notes, building trust, and delivering something of value can create considerable cognitive and emotional load. Pop yourself into your employee’s shoes. Take the time to talk with your team member to see what support they need, reaffirm the difficulty of the situation, and above all, thank them for helping out. If this situation always seems to fall to one person, provide some tangible recognition. This could come in the form of some leave, extended lunch breaks, or a shorter day sometime in the future.

Your absent employee will be anxious making the call about being unable to come to work. They will likely be well aware of the impacts on others, including their patients, colleagues, and you. No matter how difficult it is, show support. Empathy and understanding are key to looking after and retaining your valued employees. It is important to check in on them later in the day to see how they are.

Staff absence has become a “new” challenge for health business owners. When I say “new,” it has always been a part of running a business employing staff. Some of us are supporting employees struggling with burn-out, anxiety, and a range of other psychosocial factors. In the age of Covid, absenteeism has become more prevalent and a sensitive workplace issue – a complex problem. This feels new. It was not unusual for employees to come to work feeling a bit under the weather back in the day. I would even go so far as to say that the physiotherapy private clinic world practiced presenteeism. Sniffles, headaches, coughs were no deterrent to employees coming into work. Practice owners, myself included, were the worst offenders. Times have necessarily changed, and in this way, for the better.

Increased absences of our clinical team and more cancellations due to our patients being unwell are impacting the viability of our businesses. There are many business owners that I would hazard a guess are feeling stress due to this situation. This is where coming back to the first foundation of leadership is important, “Manage Yourself.” Acknowledging your emotions is the first step in recognising the impact that this situation is having on you. Then follows the self-regulation to manage the situation with fairness and compassion, resulting in a better outcome for everyone. There is no quick fix to an age-old dilemma. The values of caring and supporting your patients apply to your team. Staying true to this value will hold you in good stead and keep your team steady in these difficult times. Go well!

Dianna Howell CMgr MIML MAPA

August 2021

PS: If you are struggling and feel like you need some support. Do not hesitate to reach out. I am always happy to have a chat. coach.health2021@gmail.com

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