Staff Burnout: Improving Veterinary Practice Retention and Productivity with Empathy

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National Veterinary Technician Appreciation Week is October 16-21. We know vet techs are highly susceptible to burnout and mental health challenges. Recognizing and celebrating these hardworking team members can have a significant impact on your employee retention and morale. Take time to honor them this month. Keep reading for more tips on alleviating staff burnout.

Veterinary demand remains at an all-time high, and practice owners and managers are struggling to keep pace and maintain growth. 2022 has proved challenging, with high turnover (25% in vet tech positions, the highest in health care) and high levels of staff burnout.

Epicur is committed to supporting the health of your practice and your patients. We covered the topic of staff burnout in this comprehensive article, but mental health is not a simple one-and-done challenge to address.

Turnover and burnout have not dropped to pre-pandemic levels because neither have the demands on your practice and staff.

Fast pace, limited pay, high student debt, surging patient needs, and work that demands empathy and difficult decisions—from veterinarians to technicians and staff, is a recipe for burnout. Adding to this, 2022 has brought:

  • High turnover, requiring others to pick up the overflow workload
  • Additional weight of hiring, training, and onboarding new staff
  • Overflowing animal shelters with returns from the pandemic adoption surge
  • Margin pressures and pharmacy shortages
  • Changing ownership structures, new processes, and procedures that add to change fatigue 

That’s a lot of stress on your staff. As veterinarians and practice managers, you set the tone, so please, take care of yourself first. Take a break, and cut yourself a little slack, before taking steps to address veterinary staff burnout. Ensuring you’re in a healthy place allows you to better care for your veterinary technicians, inventory managers, and other staff.

Need support? Many veterinary professionals are in crisis. Not One More Vet (NOMV) provides the necessary support to all members of veterinary teams and students who are struggling. Because you are good enough, and you are never alone.

Our previous post on veterinary staff burnout offered some concrete ways to support your staff. Here are eight more ways to help to boost morale and create growth and change while recognizing and respecting the current workload and challenges. 

8 Tips to Improve Veterinary Staff Mental Health & Retention

  1. Peer support: Don’t underestimate the power of the buddy system. A peer, accountability partner, or assigned mentor in a similar position can offer a lot of support without putting more on you. It also can strengthen friendships—one of the top reasons employees stay with a practice.
  2. Know your limits: Don’t mistake stress for a more serious or systemic mental health concern. There is a limit to what you can do—make EAP and mental health resources visible, easy, and normalized. Not One More Vet is an amazing resource for veterinary professionals.
  3. Ask the question: From a snappy client to emotional euthanasias, your staff’s day can be overwhelming in a number of ways. Taking a moment to ask “How are you?” or “Is everything okay?” creates a safe space for them to ask for help.
  4. Offer a sense of control: Whether it’s creating an achievable and measurable goal or providing clarity of roles and responsibilities, remember that clear is kind.
  5. Address it together: Work through exercises such as:
    • Like/loath: understand what each person’s least favorite activities are, reassign, outsource, or automate where you can. One person’s like is another person’s loath—the answers may surprise you!
    • Start/Stop: remove a couple of things that will offer your staff some relief. Consider accepting no new patients for a month, saying no to a type of service, etc. The loss of short-term revenue may be far outweighed by the gains in retention and morale.
  6. Create a small contest: Add a sense of play through gamification. Something as simple as a sticker chart and small prizes can help staff band together to achieve a goal.
  7. Share your “why’s”: Ask staff to share why they chose this field, their favorite pet, or the case they felt was a win. Understanding their motivations can help you to support them in their work.
  8. Take a break together: Be careful not to plan too much on top of regular hours, but an early closing and offsite social can reignite positive energy.

As we approach the end of the year and begin planning for next year’s growth and change, these practical tips can help you to retain staff and improve productivity with empathy and compassion.

There are a number of organizations dedicated to helping veterinarians, their practices, and their staff thrive in a changing and stressful industry. NOMV is one of those special organizations. Epicur is proud to be a silver sponsor of the organization and support its crucial work.
Connect with NOMV for great resources and check out all of our industry partners who are making a difference to advance the veterinary profession.

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