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A new take on the Fear Free concept

San Diego

Fear Free practices for pets have been emerging, but this veterinarian argues the need to promote a positive environment for staff as well

Vane Nunes / stock.adobe.com

Vane Nunes / stock.adobe.com

Although Fear Free is making excellent strides helping ease fear, anxiety, and stress for both patients and clients, Peter Weinstein, DVM, MBA, emphasized in his presentation at the Fetch dvm360® conference in San Diego, California, the importance of also ensuring a comfortable, safe environment for team members.

“[We] have Fear Free practices and I think it’s wonderful that we’re doing more and more of that, but really we need Fear Free businesses. If we want to take care of our pets, we need to have an environment that is supportive, conducive, [and we] believe in the teams that we have and will have,” said Weinstein.

A fearful and hostile workplace

During his lecture, Weinstein covered this topic and offered an interactive atmosphere where attendees shared personal anecdotes involving fearing work, hostility in the workplace, and more which displayed how prevalent these issues are. When the audience was asked what they fear when going to work some of the answers included clients, pets, coworkers, and management. Some additional not-so-obvious causes of fear include that of termination, not knowing (eg, not being looped in on important conversations), retaliation, and workplace bullies.

“Why should you be afraid to go to work? Shouldn’t you want to go to work because we get to take care of warm, fuzzy, and cute puppies and kittens. You shouldn’t be dreading the day that you go to work, you should be looking forward to the difference you can make,” Weinstein said.

When you have a fearful work environment, some negative repercussions include intrinsic motivation diminishing and being replaced solely by extrinsic motivation. “In a fearful workplace, intrinsic motivation goes away, and what motivates people is money and rewards and gifts and time-off,” shared Weinstein. This kind of environment also causes diminished performance and it crushes creativity because staff members don’t feel safe to share their ideas. Last, a fearful workplace encourages short-term thinking and disengagement where employees are not looking far down the road, but rather just for their shift to be over and the next job opportunity.

Promoting an all-around Fear Free practice

To ensure a healthy work environment for all parties, Weinstein urged practice managers to promote and enforce psychological safety for employees. He added to:

  • Clearly define expectations
  • Eliminate gossip, drama, and bullying
  • Practice open door leadership (ig, listen, be available, problem solve and provide resources)
  • Prioritize maintaining a values-based culture
  • Train employees to succeed
  • Value respect, recognition, and responsibility
  • Build a team based on trust, empathy, and communication

“We do have wellness issues within the veterinary field, but we shouldn’t be propagating them by having a fearful workplace," he concluded, "If we can create an environment that mitigates fear for our pets, we can do the same for our team."


Weinstein P. The Fear Free Practice for Employees. Presented at: Fetch dvm360® Conference; San Diego, California. December 2-4, 2022.

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