A practice owner shares his ideas for making a veterinary work environment better for employees in a session at the New York Vet Show
Busy days of dealing with complex, complicated cases can sometimes leave employees too caught up in work to deal with practice management issues at the veterinary clinic. However, several veterinary professionals are feeling a dissatisfaction in their career. According to the 2020 Merck Veterinary Wellbeing Study, only 33% of veterinarians would recommend a career in veterinary medicine.1 Additionally, the American Veterinary Medical Association reports that 40% of veterinarians are considering leaving the profession.2
Because of this dissatisfaction in the veterinary profession, improving workplace culture is more important than ever. Barak Benaryeh DVM, DABVP, owner of Spicewood Springs Animal Hospital in Austin, Texas, recognized this importance in his session, “Workplace Culture,” at the New York Vet Show in New York, New York.3 Benaryeh referenced a Duke University Fuqua School of Business study in which more than 1400 CEOs from the United States and Canada were surveyed on corporate culture. The survey found that:4
Although this study looked at corporate businesses and not specifically veterinary practices, this data can still demonstrate an overall need for improved culture in any workplace environment. Prioritizing an improvement of a veterinary clinic’s culture could also have a positive impact on employees’ career satisfaction and engagement.
Benaryeh stated, “For me, what culture really is, is the feel of a hospital. And I swear that I can walk into a hospital and spend an hour or 2 in that hospital, walking around and hanging out with people, and I can get a sense of what that culture is like… At the end of the day, a vet hospital should be a nice place to be, and we should love our workplace environment. If we don't, then something's going on and something's unhealthy in that culture.”
Workplace culture is not one specific thing within an establishment, but rather it is the interpersonal relationship between employees and management. How you feel towards your colleagues and boss and how everyone works as a team can contribute to the workplace culture. Do you feel comfortable around the people you work with? Do you feel respected and appreciated for the work you do? These are just some questions that can evaluate the culture.
Benaryeh stressed that everyone should care about their workplace culture because of the rising career dissatisfaction seen in veterinary medicine as mentioned above. Burnout and stress rates are rising. In that same Merck study, a leading concern for veterinarians was stress level. Ninety-two percent of veterinarians stated stress level is a top concern for the profession in 2019 and this increased from 90% in 2017.1
“How's the practice culture in my practice? I think about this all the time, I actively think about this, because I want a healthy culture. We should all think about that in our [practice],” Benaryeh said. To evaluate this, Benaryeh suggested conducting regular performance reviews in order to check in with every team member with where they are at within their job. He also stated that performance reviews give the opportunity to further connect with employees about job satisfaction. Benaryeh also suggested sending out anonymous surveys periodically in case there are issues within the practice in which employees do not feel comfortable sharing openly.
According to Benaryeh, exit interviews can also be very important to gage the work culture and how it can improve based on direct feedback. Employees leaving the practice tend to be very honest in exit interviews, allowing managers to get an unfiltered opinion on where the practice is lacking.
Another way to evaluate the culture is to simply observe the day-to-day atmosphere. “If you're the practice manager or the practice owner, start reading faces and start reading people… I'm actually taking a feel in my practice, like what does it feel like? Are people smiling? Are they happy? Now, obviously, I can walk in when people are super stressed. But if every time I walk in, they're super stressed, something's wrong. If they can't take a beat and engage with me a little bit or engage with each other, then that's not a healthy workplace culture,” Benaryeh said.
Benaryeh’s tips for improving the practice culture includes:3
Overall, Benaryeh recommended doing what is best for your practice specifically and staying in tune with what your staff needs to improve the culture. Adapting and changing to these needs is the best way to keep everyone satisfied.