The pandemic has transformed the lives, careers and relationships of thousands of people around the world. It broke people’s plans, relationships and worldviews. It also brought some friends and families closer and brought to the surface what is both the best and the worst in humans. For us veterinary professionals, it also revolutionised our outlook on the topic of mental wellbeing in veterinary workplaces.
From Reaction to Reflection
The extremely high case load, combined with the physically challenging anti-virus safety measures, as well as the additional stress and uncertainty shocked the veterinary community. However, what was initially just terrifying, quickly became reflection-triggering. Veterinarians, nurses and vet techs around the globe gained a completely new perspective on the importance of their work and the quality of their lives. Many of the previously obscured needs have come to the surface and started shaping people’s decisions and their careers. We quickly discovered that we do not appreciate being rushed and abused by the clients, that incivility and unfairness are excruciatingly disheartening. We saw that our work is very important, yet not always adequately rewarded financially. We also noticed that being constantly immersed in a negative mood and mindset completely changes our perception of the reality, that others have much more impact on our performance than we used to think. The veterinary community started realising that the sense of autonomy over one’s daily schedule, as well as appreciation for what we have achieved is indispensable to feel empowered. The intra-team communication under the pressure, together with leaders’ integrity and leader-employee trust have been challenged. We realised that the sense of belongingness, mutual respect and psychological safety are imperative for a thriving practice.
Demanding Workplace Change
All of the above, together with many more emotional, existential and financial realisations opened our eyes to what we want and demand from our workplaces. As many veterinary practices have struggled with fulfilling the new expectations of the veterinary professionals, this resulted in a mass exodus of employees. Staff shortages affected most of the countries in the world, triggering heated discussions on employee wellbeing and retention.
The key to approach the current crisis is to interpret the words “wellbeing” and “retention” appropriately. What makes us “well”? What makes us stay in a workplace? Those two words have recently fused and gained a new, more complex meaning. “Wellbeing in the veterinary practice” does not end with healthy lunches, mindfulness rooms and seasonal events. Being “well” equals thriving and performing at the highest possible level, while remaining healthy – mentally and physically. To situate ourselves in such a position, we must become a strong, inclusive and emotionally intelligent community. In such a community, employee turnover decreases, whereas patient safety climbs up.
As we plan the future of veterinary medicine, we must acknowledge and internalise the truth that “wellbeing” equals “thriving”, which equals “retention”. Like an alive organism and its chemistry, veterinary teams also have to reach the state of equilibrium. It is within the leaders’ hands to set up the right direction and guide the team towards it, and it is the team members responsibility to develop and sustain the positive change. The success of the whole business – which means safe patients, thriving employees and satisfied clients – depends on teamwork. Where to start then? How to achieve this equilibrium?
Building Workplace Balance
Finding balance – which means creating a healthy workplace culture – can’t be quick or generic. It also can’t be done blindly. It starts with investigating and understanding the needs of each particular workplace – the values, interpersonal dynamics, hopes and fears, goals and challenges. Taking care of the team must be highly tailored and involves full engagement from the management. Currently, the industry offers more and more tools and services that enable the analysis of workplace culture and wellbeing, including the one performed by Vet Gone Real.
Understanding where we currently stand on this journey helps to channel our focus and avoid wasting time, money or energy on the areas that might be actually already working well. Once we understand the current situation and recognise the specific needs of the team, that is where the leader makes the decision to invest in the “targeted growth”. Across the literature, workplace culture has been defined in numerous ways and it is not easy to synthesise many different perspectives, but most experts would agree that culture signifies features of institutional life which are shared by the members of the team, and that includes their cognitive beliefs, assumptions, attitudes and behaviours (Braithwaite et al., 2017).
The work of scholars in the field of psychology has shown that both human thoughts and actions are dictated by emotions. Most commonly, the “targeted growth” of a veterinary team means expanding the understanding of the humanity and dignity of its members. This can help veterinary teams to gain better control over the dynamics within the workplace. Communication, appreciation, inclusion, belongingness, conflicts, autonomy and psychological safety can be managed much more swiftly with the enhanced use of emotional intelligence (EQ). Defined as “an ability to perceive and express emotion, assimilate emotion in thought, understand and reason with emotion, and regulate emotion in the self and others” (Mayer, Salovey, & Caruso, 2000, p. 396), EQ has been shown positively correlated with increased job performance, better health and wellbeing (Keefer, Parker, & Saklofske, 2018). Leaders with high EQ show higher integrity and win team’s trust, and they also gain the ability to self-regulate, self motivate and improve interpersonal relationships (Nguyen et al., 2020).
The Answer Lies Within
The great news is that the changes needed in a veterinary practice to fulfil the expectations of the new generations of veterinary professionals – such as expanding EQ, nurturing trust, diversity and inclusion, respecting dignity, providing autonomy and appreciation, and many more – are readily accessible. Emotional intelligence can be trained at any age and career stage. All that we need to improve “wellbeing” in a veterinary clinic is already within us, it just requires more attention, amplification and practice.
Finally, it is crucial to remember that equilibrium is a dynamic state. Nothing in a veterinary practice stands still – patients come and go, their state can alter within minutes, employees’ behaviour changes as quickly as their emotions, clients are diverse and also guided by their humanity. Finding balance is an ongoing process that will never end. However, if we learn how to embrace and utilise our humanity, the process of finding the equilibrium can be much smoother and more successful, and the team members and our leader – happier and more human-savvy.
Braithwaite, J., Herkes, J., Ludlow, K., Testa, L., & Lamprell, G. (2017). Association between organisational and workplace cultures, and patient outcomes: systematic review. BMJ Open, 7(11), e017708. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017708
Keefer, K. V., Parker, J. D. A., & Saklofske, D. H. (2018). Emotional intelligence in education. Integrating research with practice. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
Mayer, J. D., Salovey, P., & Caruso, D. R. (2000). Models of emotional intelligence. In R. Sternberg (ed.), Handbook of intelligence (pp.396-420), Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Doi:10.1017/CBO9780511807947.019
NGUYEN, K. T., DUONG, T. M., TRAN, N. Y., HA, A. T., & PHUNG, Y. N. T. (2020). The Impact of Emotional Intelligence on Performance: A Closer Look at Individual and Environmental Factors. The Journal of Asian Finance, Economics and Business, 7(1), 183–193. https://doi.org/10.13106/ jafeb.2020.vol7.no1.183
Liv Oginska, DVM MRCVS PGCert SAS MAPP
Liv graduated in 2016 from the university Poland and shortly after graduation moved to the United Kingdom to undergo surgical training. During her career development, Liv was exposed to various workplace environments and worked with veterinary professionals of diverse backgrounds, cultures and nationalities.
Along the years of her professional training, Liv has been mentoring and providing mental health support to her colleagues. The passion for veterinary wellbeing led her to undertaking the Masters degree programme in Applied Positive Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, UK, where Liv received the emotional intelligence coaching and appreciative inquiry training credentials.
Based on several years of veterinary and peer-support experience, combined with Positive Psychology training, Liv created the Vet Gone Real platform, through which multiple individuals and veterinary teams receive EQ coaching and workplace culture training. Liv is deeply passionate about the veterinary workplace wellbeing, emotional intelligence, psychological safety, quality improvement and creating tools that help veterinary practitioners to thrive in their career and personal life.
Liv presented her innovative approach to shaping human-savvy leaders and building human-friendly veterinary workplaces on the international congresses and she puts her teachings into practice through serving veterinary teams as their Clinical Wellbeing Coach. She is also a certified workplace conflict mediator and consults veterinary leaders on the difficult interpersonal situation in the workplace.
Training for leaders: https://www.vetgonereal.com/copy-of-vet-leaders-teams