Promoting a Healthier Workplace by Opting In to the Idea of Opting Out

According to Tony Dungy, former coach of the Tampa Buccaneers: “The secret to success is good leadership, and good leadership is all about making the lives of your team members or workers better.” I couldn’t agree more.

In a recent post about easing compassion fatigue within your veterinary practice, I touched on the notion of occasionally allowing staff to opt out of certain aspects of their job, and how this could actually benefit workplace culture. Before you discard the idea, which I know many are prone to do, it’s important to note that I said occasionally. Hear me out!

I’m not suggesting that, as managers, we allow our staff to stop performing the duties assigned to them in their job descriptions. Giving them the option of occasionally opting out doesn’t mean allowing them to opt out every time. Nor does it mean never expecting them to handle tasks they’d rather not undertake. It simply means you’re being sensitive to how certain activities or job functions within a clinic may lead to deeply rooted stress, or even compassion fatigue and burnout. And being sensitive in this regard will benefit the health of your staff and your practice.
 

What tasks could be potential triggers for your staff?

It’s different for everyone. What fatigues one staff member might not fatigue another. By getting to know what an individual’s trigger points are, you’ll be better positioned to give them the occasional break when it really counts. Far from being a sign of weakness, showing your staff that you’re willing to get in and get dirty is an excellent example of leadership; one that lightens the emotional load for staff members and helps improve workplace culture.
 

Depression in the workforce is more prevalent than ever

According to a recent Stress in America study undertaken by the American Psychological Association, millennials represent the most depressed generation ever. Given the influx of millennials into the workforce, and keeping in mind that these individuals (ages 18 to 33) are more in touch with their feelings than the generations before them, it’s essential that we, as managers, look beyond the job description and focus more on the individual doing the job.

Our hiring pool is predominately filled with individuals who are: a) prone to depression, and b) expected to regulate their emotions during day-to-day interactions with customers, co-workers and management. We need to adjust our workplace culture and mental health points of view accordingly.

What steps can we take to accomplish this?

  • When asking potential employees about their strengths and weaknesses, listen closely to what they have to say and jot down notes. For example, if Steve says he’s uncomfortable with tail-dockings or behavioral euthanasia, write it down.
  • Going forward, refer to these notes, keeping in mind that the practices noted have the potential to wear that individual down.
  • When an individual is scheduled to assist during a ‘sensitive’ practice, ask yourself if you have time to step in and give the unsuspecting staff member a break as a gesture of good will.

Within my own clinic, I’ve relieved a staff member from assisting during a tail-docking procedure by stepping in – not because he asked; just because I could. Similarly, my co-manager Holly has relieved a staff member from assisting in the behavioral euthanasia of a young and healthy pet (we all know how difficult those can be). Yet another manager shared with me that her entire staff was once upset over the arrival of a deceased pet that had died in a fire, so she handled the entire case on her own, from start to finish. Yes, as managers and as leaders, we can and should find the time to help shoulder the burden of our staff.
 

“But stepping in is inconvenient and unproductive,” you say

It’s an argument I hear often, and it’s one I don’t buy into. Being an effective manager is about more than just driving your employees to work harder or more effectively. Remember, your employees are the ones that keep your clinic running efficiently. Ignoring the emotional impact of their work can risk breeding resentment and even disloyalty, which can lead to a higher rate of attrition and, ultimately, more incidents of compassion fatigue and burnout.

The most valuable leaders of our heart-filled industry understand this. They go out of their way to motivate individual members of their team by getting to know their unique emotions, moods, attitudes and engagement levels. Why not follow their lead? Show your staff you’re willing and ready to take one for the team, and help turn their everyday stresses into positive experiences that support the wellness of your staff, and consequently the success of your veterinary practice.

Please feel free to contact me directly with questions or comments at wendy@savingfidosfriends.com.

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