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Staff Burnout: Caring for Your Veterinary Professionals Like You Do Your Patients

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Do you have that overwhelmed, exhausted feeling? It is more than stress, and it’s not just you. People in every position in veterinary medicine are reporting burnout, and it is impacting retention and hiring and can ultimately influence the standard of care for your patients and clients. Although this can seem overwhelming at times, there’s hope! There are tools to prevent burnout and help take care of your staff.

While the term ‘burnout’ may sound like a casual term, the World Health Organization has included this condition in its International Classification of Diseases. This chronic workplace stress is not just an employee problem, but a real and immediate threat to your practice and the animals you treat.

76% of staff report burnout
59% anticipate making a job change this year
A record 4.5M workers quit in November1
6.5% 2021 increase in vet appointments2
25% drop in productivity (patients per hour) 2
25% turnover in vet tech positions; the highest in health care2

You probably already care for your staff and have done everything you can to advocate for self-care and mental health breaks, make accommodations for time off, and give morale boosts. But there may be more at the root of this issue, and there are resources that could help you determine how to prevent burnout in the first place.

The six main causes of employee burnout are:
  1. Unsustainable workload

  2. Perceived lack of control

  3. Insufficient rewards for effort

  4. Lack of fairness

  5. Lack of a supportive community

  6. Mismatched values and skills

You may be struggling with your own burnout while trying to model wellbeing for your team and caring for stressed patients and clients. It feels like an impossible challenge, but if you are able to think through (or ask!) which of these six factors is most at play in your practice, it will be easier to find practical, actionable answers.

Workload may not be something you can fix this week, but you can prioritize recruiting; try offering rewards for new applicant referrals.

Many of these can be helped through better communications: perceived lack of control, rewards, and fairness may be addressed by more transparency from you. Try to take a step back and communicate your plan, their role in it, the decision-making process, and how the workload is assigned. It may not fix it, but it may address some underlying concerns.

Other factors could be improved with less or better-timed communication. We are living in an always-on world. Checking our phones for emails and chats in the evening and off-hours can make employees feel like they are always working. Schedule your emails for standard work hours to help with healthy work-life boundaries.

Lack of community is one we are all struggling with. Pandemic changes meant less ‘water cooler’ chat, which sounds great for the practice, but cut into the friendships that are so important to your staff. Zoom happy hours might have lost their appeal, but lunch and learns can be fun and social. Workshops to understand personality profiles help employees understand how they act under stress, and how they can best ask for the support they need from their colleagues.

With one of the highest suicide rates among health professionals, many in the veterinary community are in crisis. The support they need goes beyond just a day off. If you or someone you know is struggling or considering suicide, Not One More Vet (NOMV) provides the necessary support to all members of veterinary teams and students.

Reach out to NOMV today, because you are enough.

Your staff is working hard, and they need to believe they are part of something important. Address the values and skills head-on. What does your practice stand for? What is your vision? And what is their role in that? If skill gaps are part of your challenge, this will help them understand why training and process are important.

Although staff burnout continues to be an ongoing difficulty for many veterinary clinics and hospitals, there are many ways to combat this issue. Implement some of the following strategies to gain clarity and find a solution that works for you and your practice.

10 Quick Takeaways to Prevent Staff Burnout and Promote Well-Being

  1. Take care of yourself first. Recognize any signs of burnout or mental health stresses and get the support you need.
  2. Establish a real lunch break.
  3. Get clear on your culture and values. Give a reward for good examples of being true to your values. [Even small surprises can help!]
  4. Give a bonus for new employee referrals. Ask current staff to share your openings on social media.
  5. Do a start/stop exercise. Are there any tasks that the team can cut out or cut down on that are not adding any value that can reduce their workload?
  6. Make sure they know your wellness coverage. If you have an EAP (employee assistance plan), let them know and encourage them to call if they need help.
  7. Open the conversation on burnout and stress. Staff can support each other if they have the language to talk about it openly.
  8. Just because you are working, it does not mean everyone else should. Pre-schedule your emails to arrive during working hours.
  9. Explore ways to supplement your staff with telemedicine or other outsourced services to ease the burden.
  10. Automate any process you can. Online bulk orders of prescriptions, inventory management systems, billing—ask your vendors for suggestions.

 

Epicur supports the health and well-being of all veterinary professionals. Reach out to NOVM to get help, volunteer, or get more resources.

References:

1 https://www.cnbc.com/2022/01/04/jolts-november-2021-record-4point5-million-workers-quit-their-jobs.html#:~:text=WATCH%20LIVE-,A%20record%204.5%20million%20workers%20quit%20their%20jobs%20in%20November,the%20surge%20in%20%E2%80%9Cquits.%E2%80%9D

2 https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2021-09-15/are-we-veterinary-workforce-crisis

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