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Practical tips in creating a great practice culture

While pet ownership is growing, veterinarians are leaving the profession in droves for being overworked and underpaid. A survey found nearly 90% of veterinary practices in Australia struggled to fill vacancies, with 41% waiting over six months to fill positions and 18% taking up to two years to hire new vets, according to The Guardian.
The problem is not that there are no qualified people, it’s that they’re leaving in droves due to undesirable working conditions. In a survey, working vets cite low pay, poor working conditions, and stress as the top reasons for leaving their job.
Even more alarming is the fact that suicide rates among veterinarians are four times higher than general adult population, according to the The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) website. Work-related stressors include compassion fatigue, long work hours, professional isolation, financial pressure, and emotional blackmail.

This veterinary crisis, while alarming, can be curbed by improving team culture within veterinary practice. Vets can sometimes feel isolated in their practice, but there is a team of practice managers, vets, nurses, and receptionists working together to run the clinic. Building an atmosphere of collaboration and teamwork will significantly lessen stressors in veterinary practice and improve talent retention.
Something has to change, and change can start with your practice today.

7 simple yet effective ways to improve workplace culture

Workplace culture is formed through beliefs, attitudes, and core values shared by the people working together. A positive workplace culture helps in talent retention and stress reduction because it enhances collaboration, job satisfaction and work performance. The high turnover rate in the veterinary industry can be mitigated by these 7 simple yet effective ways to improve team culture.

1. Give proper recognition to motivate employees

According to Deloitte’s survey, 83% of executives and 84% of employees report that having engaged and motivated employees substantially contributes to a company’s success.

So, how do you motivate employees? It doesn’t have to be some complicated incentive program. It can actually be as simple as thanking a vet technician for assisting during a complicated surgery or praising a nurse for pacifying an agitated animal. During weekly meetings, you can also read out positive feedback and commendations from happy clients and give shout outs to employees specifically mentioned by clients. These gestures of appreciation when done sincerely will bolster morale and performance.

2. Create places where people can congregate

The tea room has become the classic example of a place where people usually chat in the workplace. These types of places where employees can come together are essential for forging bonds and even forming friendships in the workplace. Experts found that having friends at the office can decrease stress, increase engagement and loyalty, and promote a better quality of life.

Consider placing a round table in the tearoom to encourage people to sit down and talk while having lunch (on the rare occasion that they can eat together), or perhaps putting a couch in there so they can have a place to relax and catch up. Employees in vet clinics can work long and irregular hours, so providing comfortable spaces for socialisation can also help employees de-stress.

3. Be open to feedback

Workplace culture can suffer when there is no opportunity to air grievances or provide suggestions. Feedbacks mechanism can reveal flaws in the system or introduce improvements and innovation. This has to be separate from the regular evaluation because issues can pop up any day of the year and they may have been swept under the rug by the time evaluation season rolls in. Plus, evaluations can be too formal for some people and influence employees into saying what they think the management wants to hear.

A workplace culture characterised by honest and open communication makes it easier for everyone to provide feedback. For instance, casually asking the nurses how they’re doing and what they think about their job can make them feel seen and comfortable enough to share their concerns. Leaders like the practice owner and veterinary director need to assure the team that they’re open to feedback and that everyone’s opinions are valuable.

4. Hold regular team-building activities

It’s the job of practice managers to pinpoint weaknesses within the team. First, identify the areas for improvement perhaps by sending out a form beforehand to measure employee engagement. Then, structure the activity with the goal of addressing those issues. For small, private clinics that may not have the budget for this, you can consult the wealth of information online for team-building ideas. Trust games can help resolve issues between disagreeing members, while “One Problem, Many Solutions” activities can encourage members to be creative and resourceful.

5. Provide options for flexibility

The average veterinarian works approximately 46 hours a week, but with emergency care services and shortage of vets to fill shifts, this can sometimes go up to 50-60 hours depending on the workload. This is partly why vet practitioners are demanding for a better work-life balance.

According to researchers, younger employees not only look for friendships with vet colleagues, they also want reduction of work hours and personal control over their own working situation. Since veterinary practice is notorious for long and irregular hours, providing the team options for flexibility gives them more control over their work. Perhaps you can allow members to run errands during lull times, a longer lunch when there are no clients or to swap a weekday with a weekend or late-night shift.

6. Do not micro-manage

Give your team some autonomy. Micromanaging is a sure way to demotivate team members and decrease productivity. Once training or orientation is done, let them know they can approach you anytime for questions or clarifications and then give them the space to work. New graduates or new staff members may shadow senior staff to familiarise themselves with day-to-day work. Afterwards you can correct them from time to time or share additional pointers, otherwise don’t breathe down their neck. Respecting their autonomy creates trust between members and contributes to positive team dynamics.

7. Communicate core values and beliefs

Veterinary staff are not there for the money. Most people who choose to work in the veterinary industry are driven by their passion for animal care. They view their job as meaningful and fulfilling despite some of the stressors. This is typical for intrinsically rewarding jobs. In fact, one study showed that 9 out of 10 employees are willing to accept less pay in exchange for greater meaning at work. That is the power of meaningful work.

Of course, faced with the challenges and realities of veterinary practice, their idealism and wide-eyed enthusiasm may inevitably wane. This makes it very important to remind the team once in a while about their purpose as veterinary staff. They need to know how their work helps make a difference. Participating in charity events and community efforts in line with the company’s core values may help reignite the team’s passion for their profession.

Get in touch for more information on team training and improving workplace culture.

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