Summer is approaching and, with family vacations competing for patients’ time, you might find yourself with quite a few cancellations and schedule gaps.

Your first inclination may be to send your PTs home without pay. “Flexing,” as it is sometimes called, is becoming an increasingly common cost-cutting move. But, tempting as it may be to flex your PTs when things get slow, there’s a better way to use their non-billable time. Not only is being flexed insulting—your therapists have surely stayed late (unpaid) to complete documentation on busy days—but it also robs your team of growth opportunities. Plus, you could be missing out on a valuable chance to leverage your therapists’ non-clinical skills in ways that can dramatically improve your practice.

Here are four creative ways to make use of your therapists’ downtime, while simultaneously improving your clinic.

1. Blogging

Some of your therapists are probably pretty talented writers, and they might be eager to share their wisdom on your clinic’s blog. Blogging is important for several reasons:

  • Publishing regularly keeps your website content fresh, which helps with search engine optimization (SEO). This means that Google will place your website higher on its search results pages than it will if you never put out fresh content.
  • Custom content puts a face to your therapy team and clinic. A sterile, static webpage with no personality does nothing to attract patients.
  • An active blog shows that your team is knowledgeable and articulate. After all, if a local podiatrist reads your article about ankle drills, she will be more likely to refer patients your clinic versus one that doesn’t publish material on relevant topics.
  • Custom content makes patients feel safe in your care. If you maintain an active blog with plenty of thoughtful articles by your own team members, patients will feel confident that they’re going to to see the experts.
  • Blogging is a fun way to brag! Do you have a stack of positive patient reviews? Write up a blog post highlighting the best ones!

Even if your therapists aren’t natural writers, you can have them create outlines or drafts of articles and then pay a freelance editor to give ’em a quick spruce-up before they go live.

Why It’s Effective

Blogging gives your therapists a chance to flex their creative muscles. It also lets them gain some bylines and recognition for their skills—and attach their names to your clinic with a sense of pride.

The Challenge

If you don’t give therapists enough time to finish blog posts, require lengthy approval processes, or never publish the articles, you could end up making your therapists feel resentful. If you launch a blogging program, make sure you designate someone to own the editorial calendar as well as the editing and publishing process.

2. Program Development

How many times have you looked at your talented team of therapists and thought to yourself, “We should really teach a course on women’s health (or manual therapy, or neuro rehab)?” Maybe you’ve been dying to open your doors to the community, but you haven’t found a way to make it happen.

Chances are, at least one of your therapists has a strong project-management side to his or her personality. And that therapist would probably be eager to put together a program—with the proper time and support, that is.

Why It’s Effective

It’s a win-win situation. Your therapist gets a break from the daily grind and a chance to enhance her skills. Plus, program development is a valuable resume-booster (should she ever wish to move into a non-clinical career like physical therapy education or leadership).

The Challenge

Effective program development requires ongoing work, which may mean several hours of intensive concentration at a time. Trying to hop back and forth from providing patient care to getting “in the zone” of planning (or networking, creating flyers, etc.) can feel frustrating. So, try to schedule your therapists’ time in 2-3 hour blocks whenever possible. That way, if your office manager notices two cancellations an hour apart on your therapist’s schedule, he can try to move the middle appointment to create a longer block of time for your therapist to sit down and concentrate. This is also helpful when your employee needs to do outreach or coordinate with outside parties to make events or courses a reality. If the therapist is always seeing patients during call-back times, she might end up feeling more frustrated than ever.

3. Culture Committee

One of millennials’ biggest desires in a job is that intangible spirit of camaraderie. They want to feel like they’re working with family and friends. What better way to make your team feel appreciated than by having an actual culture committee devoted to making sure that employee anniversaries, birthdays, milestones, and achievements are celebrated?

In an era of declining reimbursements, productivity pushes, obsessive focus on patient satisfaction, and professional turf wars, it can be easy to forget that PT should be fun. Physical therapists should enjoy going to work every day, and if they have to work on their birthdays, then they should at least have a cake and some fanfare.

Have your most social and bubbly therapist create a culture committee, and whenever he has some downtime between patients, he can focus his efforts on using an allotted budget to plan fun events for Earth Day—or maybe even National Grilled Cheese Day—as well as come up with creative ways to celebrate and acknowledge therapists when they earn certifications. He can even focus on things like clinic decor and monthly quotes. Get creative!

Why It’s Effective

Culture is key to retaining employees. You want to make your workplace somewhere people—therapists and patients alike—enjoy being. Allowing an outgoing therapist to own this will help him create a sense of camaraderie that will keep your best therapists committed to the team, even during tough times.

The Challenge

As it always goes, things will slow down and speed up. If you know that December is always slow, but January is super busy, you’ll need to block out some time in January to keep the culture committee’s presence consistent and authentic. You don’t want the staff members with February birthdays to feel like they don’t matter, simply because the culture committee got too busy with patients to plan out a fun event.

4. Marketing

While some therapists might consider it passé, good old-fashioned physician marketing is still a reliable way to get patients in the door. And patients in the door is what every clinic needs to keep the doors open. Some therapists are outgoing, confident, and eager to network, so why not fill those therapists’ flex hours with marketing opportunities, like giving presentations at MD clinics and running booths at races and fundraisers?

But, it’s not just physician marketing that your clinic needs to thrive these days! Don’t forget about social media marketing, content marketing, email marketing, and other patient-facing efforts to drive business to your clinic.

Why It’s Effective

You can leverage your therapists’ inherent talents by having them market in ways that feel natural to them. One PT might do well with physician marketing, while another might be a Facebook or Instagram maven. By using your therapists’ skills in ways that help the clinic, you can grow them (and their resumes) while you grow your business.

The Challenge

It’s never wise to leave all marketing activities for downtime. Otherwise, you could end up with a social media account that goes six months without an update, and race booths or MD presentations that are half-baked because nobody owns them. Also, be sure to give flex time for any additional weekend hours your employees dedicate to community events. (For more great marketing tips, be sure to download our free marketing e-book.)

When things slow down at the clinic, flexing doesn’t have to be your automatic response. If you get creative with your team and let your therapists use their existing non-clinical talents and skills, you can keep them happy and paid—and improve your business at the same time!

Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, is the founder of The Non-Clinical PT, a career development resource designed to help physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals leverage their degrees in non-clinical ways. Meredith is also the co-founder of NewGradPhysicalTherapy and works as a freelance writer and editor for a variety of publications.