How to deal with a demanding boss
Veterinary practice is hard enough without an impatient, demanding yeller in your life. Here are steps to change your thinking, to try to change a boss behavior and maybe to get out, if you can.
Unfortunately, we've all been there. It's the end of the day, and you receive an email with lots of YELLING CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation … !!!!! … points. Come to find out, it's not that urgent (most things aren't and, if they are, they're communicated in person instead)-just another one of your supervisor's typical last-minute demands.
On the floor as a veterinary technician, I also experienced the face-to-face versions of these email tantrums from practice owners throwing things around and storming out of rooms because things weren't set up exactly how they wanted. I used to excuse this behavior by telling myself that it takes a special person to want to take on all that schooling and responsibility. I figured they have a difficult time getting out of their own heads and realizing how they come across.
In reality, none of that behavior is acceptable. I consider myself a driven individual, and I like to be efficient and get things done in a timely manner. However, I've never thought it was OK to treat my direct reports in a way that undermined or disrespected them. No one is the perfect supervisor, we all make mistakes, but when it's a repeated behavior it starts becoming your persona. So, if this sounds like one of your bosses, how do you cope?
It's not them-it's you
One way is to focus on our own reactions and behaviors. You can't control how someone else behaves, and how they choose to treat you is not a reflection of your worth. What you can control is your reaction-follow that mantra and you'll begin to gain more control of the situation and minimize your stress response. Also, patience and calmness are qualities of a mature individual. When your boss is flying off the handle, but you're keeping your cool, it's only going to make them appear foolish to others if they keep on. This calm, collected approach might even rub off on your boss.
If you're new, give it a beat
If you're new to the veterinary hospital or company and you see these negative behaviors in your boss, consider giving it some time. In these situations, oftentimes new hires are taken on long, long after they were first needed, so you come into a situation where everyone has been stretched thin and mentally exhausted for weeks or months. As you learn your job and contribute more and more, the stress will likely lessen, and you can see your supervisor's true colors.
Let's say the behavior doesn't improve over time. Figure out what key skills your boss is looking for and prove that you can meet, and even exceed, those expectations. Over time, when your boss sees that you're anticipating needs and excelling on your own, he or she may back off a bit with the demands.
Don't lean on excuses
Being defensive and always ready with excuses for why you didn't do this or that can make you appear as if you're always explaining away your actions rather than taking responsibility for them. Listen to complaints and expectations moving forward, then politely explain where you're coming from and the reasoning for why you did (or did not do) what you did. If you do this at the right time (not immediately after a blow up) and in a respectful, calm way, it may help your boss see another perspective and change his or her expectations for the future. Don't do this with every single disagreement. Explain things when they're important to you-choose your battles.
Time for a relocation
If you're in a large enough organization with multiple hospital locations, consider requesting a transfer. Even a hospital group with two or three locations may have options. If your hospital manager is the offending supervisor, talk to the owners about a transfer. If it's the practice owner and he or she typically works at your current hospital, you can disguise the need for a transfer with other personal reasons to make it more comfortable for you. Explain that it's an easier commute or the scheduling works better for you. Naturally, the best-case scenario is when you feel you can respectfully open up regarding how you feel and either hope things will change or they'll allow you to move, but in reality, this level of openness isn't always an option. I remember one practice owner who threw syringes at employees and called us names. My friends and family couldn't understand how I put up with her behavior without calling her out on it, but I was in school at the time and strongly reliant on that paycheck-I didn't have the option to risk my job. In those situations, it may make more sense to soften the blow and increase the likelihood of them approving a transfer by giving alternate reasons.
Time for an exit
This brings us to the last option: When all else fails, you leave. Being in a toxic workplace, day in and day out, can have serious detrimental effects on your health. Beyond the stress, high blood pressure and migraines, it can make you withdraw from the things you love. Dealing with a demanding, insensitive boss makes you crash when you finally get home-you have no energy for anything else.
There are plenty of other employers out there who are respectful and create a healthy, supportive workplace. When asked by future employers about your time in a difficult workplace, keep it professional, but focus on the fact it wasn't a good fit for you personally. Usually, a demanding boss doesn't allow for decent work-life balance or flexibility, so your focus can be on those issues versus just saying the leaders were jerks and you couldn't take it anymore.
So, remember, whether the boss is sending last-minute frantic emails telling you how you did everything wrong or is throwing things around the treatment area, consider the options above. Whether you eventually stay or go, you deserve to come out the other side of this type of trauma strong and resilient.
Oriana Scislowicz, LVT, PHR, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.