Help! Veterinary team morale is down the drain


Sheila Grosdidier counsels a team member battling low team morale.

I work at a busy combined specialty practice and emergency clinic as the ER technical supervisor. Right now we're losing doctors and staff left and right, and morale is extremely low, even though our ER practice is booming and we can't keep up with our patient load. 

Our ER staff is overworked and burned out, and our senior staff is unappreciated for the hard work that they do. (For National Veterinary Technician Week, we got a basket of snacks, when in the previous years we've received free meals throughout the week.) I've sent emails to my managers voicing my concerns about ER morale and equipment malfunctions and I get no replies. And I'm doing my supervisor job-which is usually its own position in our satellite hospitals-and still work the floor as a technician while receiving overtime, which we get reprimanded for. 

We are also unable to get any decent applicants to apply for our constant ads that we post, and our entire situation seems so hopeless. I feel like I can't do my job adequately, and there's constant in-fighting amongst our team because of our situation. I'm always begging for attention from our manager to get anything done-and I feel like I'm not supporting my dwindling ER staff appropriately. Any suggestions on how to approach this?

-Floundering in the night


Dear Floundering: 

I can tell that this is a distressing and long-standing issue. While there are several options to move in the right direction, it's important to note that culture beats strategy every time. You can want to see things change, but unless you address the culture, the end result will be the same: team members vote with their feet and leave. 

First get management to agree that this is a serious issue and you need to create a plan to change. Start with the culture. Create a questionnaire that allows your team to give meaningful and-if possible-anonymous feedback to fully understand their concerns. Try using surveying tools such as SurveyMonkey, Quick Tap Survey, Morale App and Happy@work app, for example. Then let team members know you heard what they had to say and solicit their improvement ideas. Culture is a perspective, and what you see may be very different from a team member's perspective. 

Once you and the management team understand the biggest issues, it's time to create a plan that influences the culture. Then, you can start on addressing the mechanical issues, such as scheduling, training, performance evaluation, benefits and so on-all those items you know influence longevity and employee satisfaction. 

Take the time to get the team behind the change, or you're destined to hit the culture wall again. Invest the time and energy to understand and create a positive connection with the team, and change will happen. 

Bottom line: You won't do it alone. And if you can't agree as a management team what needs to happen, you may need to consider whether this is a good place for your future. You can't flourish in a place that doesn't share your philosophy and values and respect your contribution. Don't follow a path. Blaze a trail. 

-Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, MCP, PHR

Partner and consultant with VMC Inc. 

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