Its December 1st and the festive season is bearing down on us. So are the long hot summer days. As an Australian business owner I often view the changing of the seasons as an opportunity to reflect. Summer adds a special touch to business ownership with multiple complex matters. These generate increased levels of stress for staff and business owners.
Long hot days
For those of us that live in the South of Australia we thrive on the warmer months and daylight saving. This is until the temperature gauge peaks over 35 degrees. The warmth and UV light adds a positive brightness to our day, until we become bathed in sweat, squished on public transport under a non-deodorised arm, or dealing with the business interruptions of power failures, summer storms and exhausted staff. Living in the tropics poses special risks – those little nuisance things called cyclones – and it seems the havoc they can create in a few hours can leave business crippled for weeks, or even months.
Thankfully by embracing the UV rays of the hot summer sun I have a more positive view on the 45 degree day. It generates free solar energy to power our groaning air conditioners. Starting work at 6am is easy, when its already 30 degrees and the sun has been up since 4am. Patients are brighter and happier. They thankful of the early morning appointments and even the staff don’t mind starting early, and finishing before lunch.
Time zone changes
As a WA based business I am acutely aware of the daylight saving changeover date. This is especially when my bank still insists I am living at my postal address on the east coast and calls me at 5am! There is an upside to running a business on the West Coast that has clients on the East. Most mornings I am able to work between 5am-8am on business management. From 1pm-2pm is my wind up of East coast business which coincides with my lunch break.
For those not privy to the benefits of daylight saving we do feel a little bit left out. We have to consider the five time zones of Australia over the summer period when negotiating business.
An upside for my patients – our Telehealth conference calls with the east coast consultants are between 7am-9am. This allows the patient to get back to work and manage the life with minimal interruption.
Co-orindating staff leave and rosters over the celebrated seasons needs to be done in a fair and considerate manner. As a smaller practice the impact on 4 people taking leave over the same period can cripple the functions of the business and if not for patient care, financially would be better off being closed. We ask staff to request leave 3 months in advance for the Christmas period and so far this has worked, with some negotiations. As the business and practice owner I am the last to take leave over this period and opt for leave at various other times to compensate.
Christmas parties, dinners, bonus payments – in addition to the stressors of limited income and staff there is an expectation that small business owners will reward the staff at the end of the year, regardless of business performance or individual staff performance. This has been particularly challenging for me as an owner as I am retail adverse with my family over this season and instead revert to gift-giving during the year. It has been more difficult to implement this in a business due to fear of judgement.
Our practice is decorated with tree and tinsel, we have a donation box for the children in our community less fortunate and we cover our building with thousands of Christmas lights for the local town Christmas light tour. Despite the stressors we embrace the positives of Christmas and focus on helping those in need.
Patients sense of urgency
Despite the best laid plans to ensure our patients are well prepared with essential medications, travel advice, vaccines and a support network, we are still faced with a multitude of urgent requests in the last hours of business on Christmas Eve and the days leading towards Christmas. Use social media, local advertising and world of mouth to remind patients to collect medications and deal with matters prior to the Christmas rush.
Touching base with the families of our nursing home patients and palliative care patients allows us to put in plans over the festive season. This includes urgent home visits or accessing emergency care if required. Acknowledging the difficult time for the family is also important. Seeding positivity and hope its what Christmas is really about.
Christmas cheer – or not
Staff and patients have various religious and personal beliefs – so how do we respect them all while celebrating Christmas which is a Christian tradition?
After some D&M (deep and meaningful) conversations with some Muslim Colleagues and staff, as well as a JW (Johava Witness) friend I realised that there was no need to change or exclude people from traditional Australian celebrations. We are after all, living in Australia. I was reassured by my patients and staff that it is accepted and ok to say “Merry Christmas” to a person who doesn’t personally celebrate Christmas. Sounds rather bizarre but as a business owner I wanted to be politically correct, inclusive and sensitive, all at the same time.
Accessing childcare over the Christmas period can be very challenging for parents of young families. Children who are school age are suddenly a financial burden with the need for supervision. Staff who cannot access childcare have been wonderful in giving us advance notice so that we can either assist them. The alternative is that they book this time as leave. Coordinating the business around the essential needs of staff shows that we have their best interest, and their families, as a focus. Even if it can cause an inconvenience to management and other staff we pull together as a team. We recognise there are some things that are out of our control
Decreased cash flow
Finally the business nitty gritty. Medical consults are reduced to the essential consults. Patients are in holiday and festive season mode. Apart from a few sliced fingers and a couple of burns, my Christmas consults have been minimal over the last few years. Babies on the other hand seem to have an uncanny knack of prompting hospital visits. These usually false alarms with Christmas pudding reflux, heat exhaustion or overindulging in family activities. We had have a few sneaky ones who pop their head into the world in a rush to have their first Christmas. My daughter Alicia was one of these impatient babes who was 2 days early being born at 2130 on Christmas Eve.
Running a business without sufficient cashflow can result in increased stressors for the small business owner. Preparing with early applications of overdrafts so that you can safely meet your financial obligations with reduce these stress levels. Try and prepare for the holiday pays in advance, public holidays and decreased patient flow by budgeting for December in October and November.
Family, Friends and Festive Season
Christmas and the Festive season can stretch the patience of most small business owners. With some forward planning, predictions of staff leave this can be reduced. Managing cash flow, having contingency plans, advertising, marketing and setting the scene for a stress-free Christmas you will be more likely to look forward to a few days of Christmas Cheer.
Merry Christmas from the Business for Doctors team.
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