Im always messing this up! Does your veterinary team suffer from non-stop self-blame?

November 21, 2019
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR

Oriana Scislowicz, LVT, PHR, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.

We live in a hypercritical society. And veterinary professionals are usually first in line to blame themselves for all kinds of things, mistakes or not. But If youre so busy reassuring your veterinary clinic employees that youre negating performance issues entirely, you need these tips.

Whether you are a vet tech being hassled with questions regarding the patient you handed over at the end of your shift or a manager fielding texts about what should happen next with emergent situations (which are usually not), there isn't a clear line defined between when work ends and life begins again.

Today's work environment has created the perfect storm for employees to be overly critical of their performance and lack the necessary self-confidence for their success.

If you haven't already, you will encounter employees who use the “self-blame game” to get out of responsibility for their actions. Have you ever sat down with an employee to discuss a performance issue only to hear the response, “I know, I'm always messing things up!” Be cautious if this is the regular response anytime you discuss a problem. It's easy to feel bad for the individual and want to reassure them to the point that you negate the performance improvement discussion entirely. Acknowledge their comment, explain it's not indicative of their performance as a whole, but you do want to work with them to improve in the area discussed.

Now I'm going to ask you to think about how to promote a more positive, healthy perspective in your employees when it comes to their performance. This will prep you for conversations with individuals who utilize self-blame as a scapegoat in performance discussions.

Step 1: Redirecting negative thought patterns

The first step in eliminating self-blaming behavior in employees is to encourage them to stop and redirect their thoughts. Ask them to consider if they could have truly done anything differently in the situation in question. If so, did they learn a new approach in the process? We're bound to look back and feel silly in how we handle some situations, but we also must appreciate this as an opportunity for growth.

Recognize your own self-blame

My pro tip? I have found that in most situations where I have continuously beat myself over how something was handled, it was a high priority for myself, but did not carry as much weight with my supervisor and colleagues. Encourage employees to consider how they approached different scenarios and know that you have their backs in the process. Part of what made me more comfortable with my growth as an employee was knowing that my supervisor was open about when she felt she could have handled things differently and she treated it as part of the job, no big deal. The worst thing you can do to your employees is to not reassure them, or not discuss what's on their mind. During regular check ins, hear out their concerns and try to relate to their experiences.

Step 2: Finding the right place to vent

Encourage mentorships (someone who isn't a supervisor) and peer check-ins. When employees have someone to openly discuss their journey with, it helps their mental state. When they can vent, they realize they are not alone in their fears and concerns-and the focus becomes less about them not meeting expectations in their own mind.

Mentorships can be an ongoing way to focus solely on career development, which tends to get lost in most employees' busy day-to-day work schedules. Having a mentor is a great way to build confidence through learning about real life examples that a more tenured individual has experienced.

Step 3: Building confidence

Employees who can recognize when they are a subject matter expert in a certain area, then feel encouraged to spread their knowledge to others, will undoubtedly feel a boost of confidence. Recognize areas where they excel and ask them to train others on that task. Help them see when they have grown in a certain area-we can often be hypercritical of our own competencies and focus on where we are lacking versus seeing how far we have come. Talk through these examples in your check-ins, and don't let them lose sight of how much they have learned and grown over time.

Confidence also stems from proper training. Make sure you have a supportive, all-encompassing training program for new hires. Then, after the first six months or so, facilitate ongoing training opportunities to further develop weaker areas in employees. Provide clear guidance and support in order to perfect areas of opportunity.

An employee's self-confidence and ability to be more of a positive thinker greatly depends on their support system at work. If you can create an environment where learning is encouraged and failures are treated as growing opportunities, employees are much less likely to fall into the trap of self-blame.    

Oriana Scislowicz, LVT, PHR, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.