Who's steering your practice?
If thoughts of your veterinarian stir you to feelings of mutiny, consider these tips to weather the storms at work and set a course for smooth sailing.
Keeping up with the ebb and flow of a bustling clinic can be a daunting task, especially with the added stress of a taskmaster captain. Veterinarians, like physicians, often carry a stigma of being difficult to work for. But what constitutes a difficult boss?
With the myriad of personality types and coaching styles, there's a vast difference between a boss who expects the best and a boss who demands the impossible. Once you've figured out which one you work for, use this advice to help carry you through the stormy days and avoid major squalls.
It's not a one-man lifeboat
Don't take it personally. This is the most important rule to follow to keep sane. Picture this: Your boss is impossible to please, so you work harder than ever, spewing forth a river of gold and rainbows in five minutes flat. Then she tells you she's more of a black-and-silver person and she wanted it done three minutes ago. Don't fret, for this isn't a battle you can win and it likely has nothing to do with you. Instead of breaking down and reaching for the isoflurane, try responding with this: "I really tried my best to do what you asked of me and I'm a little disappointed that you aren't happy with it. I hope that next time we can communicate better about what you want. In the meantime, what can I do to fix it?"
If that doesn't soften her mood a bit and you're at a loss, you have two options:
1. Take a breath and let it go.
Chart your path
Veterinary teams have shared responsibilities among employees, like checking patient charts, managing inventory and administering medications, so you should always document everything you do. Be consistent about initialing and making notes in charts so you have a record of what you've accomplished and what you should or shouldn't be held accountable for. Keeping track of your work can cover you in difficult situations, and it's the best way to maintain excellent patient documentation.
Stay above board
Always be honest. When you make a mistake, own up to it. If you're consistently honest, genuine and apologetic, your boss is less likely to be upset if you drop the ball—especially since she knows you've always taken the time to be thorough and document your actions.
Say you sent a client home with the wrong antibiotic. Getting defensive and declaring that you weren't given proper instructions heightens tension between you and the boss. Own up to your flub by saying, "I'm so sorry, that was totally my fault. I should've confirmed with you first. I've already left a message for the clients letting them know what happened. Can I fill the new script for you?"
Steer clear of rocks
Consistency is always key. Once you've found your groove at work, don't change it. Get in the habit of always following the same steps in the same order every day. This will make you a more predictable employee, help streamline your methods and add speed to your work over time. Your manager will be thrilled with your organization and predictability, even if she doesn't say so.
If your boss is an unorganized mess and you spend the first 30 minutes of your mornings going through her patient charts for her, do it every morning without fail. Skipping a step that she depends on will throw off her entire day, which will come right back to you when she jabs you with underhanded comments in front of clients like, "Sorry to keep you waiting so long, my files must have been misplaced by someone … " Yikes.
Don't give up the ship
No matter how organized you are at your clinic, there's always an emergency or a strenuous client waiting around the corner. When overflowing to-do lists throw a wrench in your daily process, never put off the small stuff. Write yourself notes and remember little splashes can turn into gigantic waves if left unattended.
If your boss asks you to make a quick phone call "when you get a chance," what he really means is "right now." Imagine you're in the middle of placing a large food order and the boss tells you to call in a script to another pharmacy. You tell yourself you'll do it later but you end up forgetting about it completely. And by the time you remember, it's too late to call it in. Now you've lost his trust, annoyed a client and started a terrible chain reaction. Next time, slap a sticky note on your forehead or do it right away. Then knock out the rest of your list so you can get back to your routine unplagued.
All hands on deck
Sometimes seeking a good friend in one of your coworkers is all you need to get some release. Find someone you can confide in to help you vent all of your frustrations. Talking it out with a comrade who can commiserate is excellent therapy. This is also a good opportunity to talk about the good times at work and remind each other why you do what you do.
If you're lacking in friends at your clinic, try to get on the good side of one of your technicians. Technicians spend the most time with veterinarians, especially during long surgeries, and may be able to offer a positive perspective on the true personality of your boss. And make a pact with your new friend to get together for dinner or drinks or go on breaks together and take a short walk so you don't end up gossiping at work.
Don't tangle lines
If everyone at work absolutely hates the boss, you can easily fall into the bad habit of gossiping and breeding negative energy. Let's say you have a team member at your clinic who spends her days in the back room with no one to talk to but the dogs. Warning! Warning! This is a deluxe, super-sized gossip burger with extra cheese just waiting to suck you in—especially if you have an evil boss. Avoid the urge to get pulled in or to use her as your psychiatrist every time you're in the area. A team can't operate effectively with pessimism hanging in the air, and everyone feels the effects—boss included. Try to be the positive force and save your frustrations for the next happy hour.
Shake a leg
It may sound cheesy, but activities like running, boxing, swimming and yoga can really help you release your aggression physically. When everything is just too much to handle, slamming your fists into a punching bag or pounding your feet into the pavement works wonders for your mood.
Working out with your team members is also a great bonding experience and a chance to catch a breather from workplace stress. If you can't get to the gym together, have a clinic field day after hours. Take 10 minutes to punch some expired bags of dog food, fill up some gloves with water and throw them at each other outside or run some laps. This is a guaranteed cure-all.
Don't get keelhauled
As soon as expectations are too high, be honest. Sitting around and stewing in your troubles won't solve your problem. If you've been given an impossible project or your schedule is a nightmare, talk to your boss about it.
Say, you walk into his office and tell him that you hate your schedule and you want him to change it. He's likely to say something like, "I guess you'll have to figure out how to get your shifts covered then, won't you?" If you ask him if you can set a time to discuss the issue instead of bringing it up at the wrong time, this will give you both plenty of time to think about what you want to say. He won't be caught off guard or feeling angry that you didn't respect his schedule. He might even say, "Let me think about it and see if I can find a way to get you what you need." Win! (Also see "The manager behind the mask" for tips to work better with your manager.)
Know when to cut and run
If you've tried everything and failed, it may be that this isn't the right job for you. When you're doing your best and you can't handle the fact that your best may never be good enough, find something else. Don't burn any bridges, just keep your head up and keep happily working while you line up some interviews. It's easier to get hired if you're currently employed; you'll eventually thank yourself for sticking it out and not leaving a gap on your résumé. Interviewers will appreciate your responsibility and your former boss will be happy that you didn't walk out, leaving him in the lurch—even if he's a little bitter that you left.
While most veterinarians are wonderful people who are great with animals, some are less than perfect at dealing with people. Using these techniques can help bridge the communication gap between bosses and team members. If you've exhausted these tips, however, and find yourself at the end of your rope, don't ever feel guilty about taking matters into your own hands and doing what's right for you. While it's always a respectable decision to try and stick it out, being miserable is no good for anyone. If the storms and swells outnumber the sunny days and you can't find happiness in your job, it's probably time to look for a job that finds the happiness in you.
Cori Weber has worked as a receptionist and veterinary assistant in Kansas City and lives in Olathe, Kan.