The Monday Bandit: Dealing with early-week absenteeism
Emily Shiver, CVPM, CCFP, is regional director of operations at the Family Vet Group, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Shiver resides in Florida.
Have a veterinary employee who cant seem to show up on the most stressful day of the week? This tried-and-true method will hold them accountableand show support for the rest of your team.
Your staff looks to you for guidance, structure, boundaries and having their backs. When you start making concessions to the Monday Bandit, you're letting your team down and they lose respect for you quickly. (Getty Images)
Without even looking at your phone, you know who the text is from and what the contents will be. Another Monday, another “I can't make it” text from the Monday Bandit.
This is the employee who can't come in on Monday for myriad reasons (the excuses can get creative-trust me, I feel your pain) but shows up Tuesday bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to work. The problem is not just the extra workload on Mondays; it's that the Monday Bandit is harming your entire practice.
Visualize the Monday Bandit as a cinder block and your practice and staff a bunch of colorful balloons tied to it. This person's bad habit is a weight that's keeping your practice and team from reaching new heights. Let me elaborate.
How the Monday Bandit affects the team
As in every veterinary hospital, the pets that need care don't stop coming in because we're short-staffed. With the workload the same-and, let's face reality, Mondays are no walk in the park-the environment for the few staff who do show up quickly becomes thick with animosity.
This plays out a couple of ways. One, the staff can alienate the Monday Bandit the rest of the week, which can make for a very uncomfortable work environment and a steep drop in morale. Two, in an effort to seek revenge, team members may intentionally not show up when they know the Monday Bandit will be at work, making for another potentially intense workload. Without a doubt, neither of these are good for business!
Clients are intuitive
Don't ever underestimate what your clients can sense when they come into your practice. While you're spinning your wheels trying to keep the day going, protect pets and get the staff to stop complaining about the Monday Bandit, team members continue to interact with clients. Unhappy or disgruntled employees project their emotions, even if they're trying to “fake it 'till they make it.” The happiness of your staff directly impacts the tone of your practice. Feeling that instability is enough to make your clients lose trust in your business.
Letting them down
This is a heavy burden for practice managers to carry. You end up having to mediate all of it-the staff, the clients, pet care-and still wear your multiple hats throughout the day so all the work gets done. Not to mention you're trying to map out a plan to deal with the Monday Bandit.
I've met many practice managers who stick their head in the sand by creating a schedule where the Monday Bandit can come in later on Monday or not even work Monday at all. Stop! This is not the answer!
Your staff looks to you for guidance, structure, boundaries and-guess what else-having their backs. When you start making concessions for the Monday Bandit, you're letting your team down and they lose respect for you quickly. In this case, you need to discipline the Monday Bandit for leaving them short-staffed on one of the busiest days of the week.
Tough conversation No. 1
I hope it's spelled out in your staff handbook how many unexcused absences are allowed before disciplinary action is taken. If it is not, pause here, grab your handbook and get to editing! Having that solid foundation and structure is necessary to move forward in your discipline process.
The process starts with a tough conversation as soon as the Monday Bandit arrives for their next scheduled shift. This does two things: makes a huge impact on the rest of the staff because they see that you're supporting them, and it alerts the Monday Bandit that you'll be addressing the issue-no more flying under the radar! (Need some help with this meeting? Refer to this article on how to navigate tough conversations.)
Your opening comment should be something like this: “Tell me about a typical Monday for you. What are some roadblocks that make it impossible for you to work the scheduled shift?”
Let your team member elaborate. Yes, most likely the response will be full of far-fetched excuses. That's OK! Trust me in this process! Write down all the roadblocks as the employee lists them.
Now ask the team member to list a solution (or two!) for each roadblock. This puts the responsibility back on them. Once they've done this, ask how you can help. Make notes if they come up with any ideas, and end the conversation.
You'll notice in the first step that there's no discussion of how the Monday Bandit's behavior creates a hardship for the practice and the staff. They know it does! This is about them, not the rest of the team-you're not just trying to help that individual but putting the responsibility back on them to make better choices.
I know at this point you're probably rolling your eyes, thinking this will never work. Trust me. It does!
Fast-forward to the next Monday our Bandit is scheduled. You guessed it!
Tough conversation No. 2 coming right up!
Tough conversation No. 2
Here's how to start: “What happened? I was feeling very confident with some of the solutions that we came up with. I was hoping for success!”
Let the employee speak. Then, no matter what their response, say something like this: “You know, it's quite a hardship on the practice to be short-staffed on one of our busiest days of the week. It has a detrimental impact on the pets we take care of, the clients, the other staff and, of course, myself. I expect your attendance on Mondays to improve immediately, or the next conversation will be much different.”
Tough conversation No. 3
The next offense will require a formal write-up that puts the Monday Bandit on a 30-day probation with the understanding that termination is imminent if the habit continues. Be prepared for the aftermath-again, I typically see one of two things happen. Either the Monday Bandit doesn't strike again in the 30-day probation period, or they resign (sometimes with a no-call, no-show).
I am fine with either scenario, and you should be as well. When your staff sees you taking this seriously and having their back in this way, it makes a strong impact. It also sets the tone for their behavior as they realize you're not scared to face a tough conversation head-on; they'll be more apt to stay within the boundaries when they realize you follow through with consequences for actions.
The positive blowback
I encourage you to stay strong in holding your Monday Bandit accountable. It doesn't matter how skilled this person is when working Tuesday through Friday or how much clients love them. The effect the Monday Bandit has on staff morale, as well as the culture and the tone of the practice, is of far greater importance. A happy, content team projects that attitude to clients and provides them with a great experience at your practice, which leads to word-of-mouth recommendations.
I've lived it, and I've seen the impact of “pulling the Band-Aid off.” It may be scary, but when your revenue starts skyrocketing along with your new client numbers, you'll wish you'd done this years ago! Cut the string that's weighing down those colorful balloons and let them fly high!
Emily Shiver, CVPM, is a certified compassion fatigue professional and practice manager at Cleveland Heights Animal Hospital in Lakeland, Florida.