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Want a healthy practice culture? Eliminate these 3 things
There is a lot of talk about workplace culture these days in the veterinary industry. Building and maintaining a healthy culture at the practice level is critical for recruiting and retaining excellent employees.
This article is sponsored by Basepaws.
Workplace culture is a term that gets thrown around a lot these days, but people often have a hard time defining what it actually means. How does this author define practice culture? Simply, it is “The general atmosphere of a workplace, including employee values, beliefs, policies, and attitudes.” In other words: What is it like to be a part of the organization? What does it feel like when a patient walks in the front door of the practice? To be serious about culture, one of the first things that must be done is to eliminate these 3 culture killers: gossip, client shaming, and tolerating toxic clients.
In this author’s opinion, gossip is the most dangerous behavior that one can allow in their practice. Gossip will always try to appear, and it’s important to be very intentional about squashing it immediately whenever it does. If gossip is tolerated, the practice owner will lose the trust and respect of their team. Gossip is easy to identify. If the practice owner or anyone else is saying something about another employee who is not in their presence, they are generally gossiping. An obvious exception is when singing their praises, but if this is the case, hopefully, that praise is also given to the employee in person.
This author strongly suggests instituting a “no gossip” policy at every practice. Encourage team members to call it out when they see it and to never participate. No practice can cultivate a healthy culture if it allows gossip.
2. Client shaming
Sadly, this behavior is all too common in many veterinary practices. Undoubtedly, everyone reading this has witnessed it, and most have been guilty of it in the past. This behavior usually appears as judgmental remarks about a client to another employee: “Can you believe they waited 3 days to bring this dog in? How stupid!” Here is another example: “This guy in room 3 is not the brightest. He thought you checked for heartworms with a fecal sample.” Again, these are some of the milder examples as this author has seen much worse.
This kind of behavior is very dangerous because it does a few very damaging things. First, it sets up the “us vs them” relationship between veterinary staff and pet owners. This mentality makes the successful delivery of care to a patient even more difficult because it distracts from what should be the focus of the interaction: delivery of care and education. Clients must know that everyone is on the same team regarding their pet, and that everyone’s top priority is doing everything possible to help their pet.
3. Toxic clients
The thought to list toxic clients as damaging to workplace culture is not without hesitation. That apprehension stems from a concern that there has been a growing movement to blame the general public and clients for all of the burnout and unhappiness in the veterinary profession. This author is a firm believer that true happiness comes from a place of learning to control only what one can control. The truth is the veterinary professional cannot control every client; they can only control their reaction to that client. The practice is often seeing people on the very worst day of their year, which calls for plenty of grace and patience.
However, there are certain behaviors that the practice should never tolerate from clients. As discussed above, having the right people on the team is the most important way to build a healthy culture. If the practice allows clients to behave in a way that makes the team feel unsafe in any way, it will undermine all the trust that the team has for its leadership. Threatening behavior should never be tolerated, and those clients should be dismissed from the practice immediately. This includes verbal, physical, legal, and online threats. The team doesn’t deserve to have to deal with that; their job is stressful enough. Make sure the team knows that the leadership has their back and will do everything in its power to create a safe and inclusive work environment.
In conclusion, eliminating these 3 culture killers is not going to be easy. It requires constant determination and buy-in from the whole team. However, in order to be serious about having a healthy work culture, they need to go.