Summer is fully upon us, and with the warm weather comes plans for combating the doldrums with a fun getaway. In the world of physical therapy, however, time off presents a host of challenges unique to caregivers, where the process of recovery is always ongoing. Working in an essential field shouldn’t preclude therapists or staff from taking some much-earned time off, though. With some planning, clinic leaders can balance their obligation to patients with vacation time without missing a beat.
So, how can ensure your clinic’s vacation policy balances rest and relaxation with patient recovery? Here are a few key tips.
The first and perhaps most important thing you can do is to emphasize to your staff the importance of taking time off. It might seem like an obvious point, but Americans are shockingly terrible at taking vacations, to the tune of 768 million unused vacation days last year. That’s enough for everyone in the country to take a four-day weekend—with a hundred million days left over! Much of this is down to a culture pervasive across companies nationwide in which workers fear that taking time off will make them seem less committed to the job or, worse yet, replaceable. Pair employees’ vacation anxiety with PT’s continuing issues with burnout, and it’s a recipe for a detached staff that may be looking for the exits before too long.
As a result, more and more employers are taking the necessary steps to deal with the issue of unused vacation days, whether by increasing the amount of vacation days that can rollover or by mandating that employees take time off.
Manage vacation requests with staffing requirements.
All that said, it’s still important that your clinic be able to function during any period on the calendar, vacation season or otherwise. One of the more challenging parts of creating a vacation policy is figuring out how to juggle vacation dates from multiple employees. If two or more people are requesting time off during the same period, who takes precedence? Who’s going to cover for a clinician while they’re away? And who exactly is keeping track of these days off, anyway?
Implementing a team treatment system can help put your clinic in position to more easily handle absences while maintaining continuity of care; while you might not be able to replicate the exact same treatment with the same people if one person on the team is out for a vacation, patients will still be able to work with a familiar face who knows their plan of care and can communicate important details to substitute therapists.
Existing staff may be able to handle additional patients for the week or two a therapist is on vacation provided they don't already have a full caseload. If your remaining clinicians are already stretched thin, you may be able to make use of temporary or travel PTs to fill in for clinicians on vacation, while still being able to bill Medicare for those services and receive full reimbursement under the provision formerly known as “locum tenens.”
Track your staff’s upcoming vacations
While you can use a basic paper calendar, it might make more sense to find a payroll software that allows for employees to request days off and slot them on a shared calendar, while also tracking requests against an employee’s allotted time off and time off already used. It’s also smart to make sure that someone is regularly checking and approving time off; if not you, someone else with a hand in scheduling staff.
Determine the type of leave you want to implement.
A more traditional leave policy allots a certain number of days per employee per type of time off; for example, Clinic X may grant staff two weeks of vacation time, five sick days, and five personal days, with a set schedule of observed holidays. And while that type of policy can offer employers greater insight into what employees are ostensibly doing with their time off for the purposes of planning, employees may feel the oversight is intrusive.
Paid time off policies can be simpler.
One different approach is to grant employees a pool of paid time off (PTO) to do with as they wish. If you’re not concerned with tracking how your team is using time off between vacation, sick days, and personal days, PTO is a good option for clinics that trust their staff to manage their schedule in a professional manner. And clinicians and staff will appreciate that trust and flexibility, although there is the risk that some may try to save PTO for vacation and come into work sick.
There are other considerations in setting a policy: should employees accrue days over the course of the year, or be granted their full allotment starting January 1? How many PTO days is enough? Should unused vacation days pay out when an employee leaves? There’s no right or wrong answer to those questions; rather, it’s about what you’re comfortable with, and more importantly, what your team wants.
Time away from the clinic is crucial to maintaining a focused and productive team that provides the best care to patients. And while it may require a little extra effort on the part of everyone to fill in the gaps, with a solid policy in place everyone will get their chance to refresh and recharge for the vital work of physical therapy.
If you have any other strategies to recommend, feel free to drop them in the comment section below!