The latest installment of The Dilemma focuses on lightening the workplace environment
Editor’s note: All names and businesses in this dilemma case are fictitious, but the scenario is based on real occurrences.
Harden Animal Hospital takes pride in being progressive. This 16-year-old companion animal clinic with a staff of 35 is always striving for excellence. The hospital director, Dr Harden, believes that excellence comes in many forms, the most obvious being excellent medical care. Dr Harden also believes that a positive workplace environment is critical to an efficient, well-run practice and that fun distractions can relieve some of the stresses that come with caring for sick pets and concerned owners. After consulting with his practice management, he devises several activities to lighten the workday atmosphere without diverting the focus of the professional medical team.
One interesting idea was a staff bingo board. Each month, the staff member who witnesses the most circumstances on the bingo board receives a gift card. Another idea consisted of exchanging greeting cards on Valentine’s Day with bad animal jokes enclosed. An example of a recent card read, “Happy Valentine’s Day. I just tried to call the zoo, but I could not get through because the lion was busy.”
Once a month the practice celebrates all staff members who had birthdays that month. The staff members are acknowledged, a birthday cake appears in the break room, and birthday wishes are offered in word and song. This allows staff to see their coworkers not only as work colleagues but also as valued community members with lives and milestones independent of their daily medical tasks. Adding pleasant but poignant lighthearted activities to the workplace is an important part of maintaining staff morale. When veterinary staff members consider their priorities when selecting a job, they must consider workplace location, environment, and monetary compensation. In today’s stressful world, monetary compensation can’t always be assumed to be a first choice. In essence, money isn’t everything.
For many years, veterinarians have ranked too high on the list of professionals who commit suicide. Suicide is more likely among veterinarians than the general population: 1.6 times more likely for male veterinarians and 2.4 times for female veterinarians.1 We must minimize the stress veterinary professionals encounter in their day-to-day practice. The Harden Animal Hospital chose to offset some workplace stress by mixing a bit of fun into the daily routine. Other approaches to minimize the stress associated with the literal life-and-death issues of patients were staff schedule flexibility, easy access to mental health care resources, and promotion of empowerment within the workplace.
Hospital directors and hospital managers must let the staff know early on that they are always available to assist with these issues in a confidential manner. Just as there are frequent representatives who come to the clinic to detail their new product lines, there should also be an opportunity for mental health care professionals to speak to the staff about managing stress.
Some may think that this clinic was too intrusive when it came to inquiring and celebrating the staff concerning personal matters. Others see this as part of normal staff support that comes in a healthy workplace. We would like to know your thoughts.
It’s 2023, and the veterinary medical world is changing. The workforce has gone from majority men to majority women. Family dynamics have dictated necessary changes in the veterinary workplace. Social media and telemedicine are now integral parts of veterinary practice. One of the things that has not changed—and will not change—is the stress related to dealing with the health and welfare of patients and demands of pet owners. My hope is that the same attention given to new medical advances can also be directed toward managing stress-related issues in the workplace.
Marc Rosenberg, VMD, is director of Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. Although many of the scenarios Rosenberg describes in his column are based on real-life events, the veterinary practices, doctors, and employees described are fictional.
Nett RJ, Witte T, Spitzer EG, Edwards N, Fowler KA. Suicide risk for veterinarians and veterinary technicians. CDC. September 4, 2019. Accessed June 28, 2023. https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2019/09/04/veterinary-suicide