From burnout to boundaries: 6 tips for hospital managers to create a happier workplace
It’s no secret that veterinary professionals are feeling burnt out. Between increased demand and the ongoing pandemic, veterinarians and support staff alike are feeling overworked, and underappreciated.
We all know happy doctors perform better care, and the reverse is true as well. If your staff is overworked and unhappy, quality of care and profitability can suffer.
One reason for staff burnout? Lack of boundaries.
Last month, I wrote 6 tips for doctors on setting and maintaining boundaries. Today, I want to focus on the hospital side, and provide tips for managers looking to optimize the success of their hospital by helping their staff thrive.
If you are a manager or hospital owner, take a moment to reflect. If you’re struggling with employee retention, client satisfaction, low morale, poor productivity, or frequent mistakes, your hospital may have boundary issues. Start making changes today!
Here are 6 tips to help you create a better workplace.
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Tip #1: Embrace a willingness and desire to listen and change for the greater wellbeing of your hospital.
Warning: Leadership needs to get fully onboard with thick skin and a desire for honest conversations before approaching the topic of boundaries with employees.
You must genuinely be ready to receive and be receptive to feedback. The most constructive conversations are going to highlight areas that aren’t working, and the automatic response may be to try to justify them.
Instead, listen. Your staff needs to trust that there won’t be negative repercussions for opening up and being vulnerable. Honest feedback is crucial for real change and success.
Tip #2: Initiate conversations in a safe and supportive environment.
Talking about boundaries is uncomfortable and even foreign for a lot of people. Pleasantly surprise your staff by proactively asking questions to help them gain clarity with what balance looks like in their life.
Create a safe and supportive environment by offering different methods for feedback. While one person may enjoy candid in-person conversations, many may feel more comfortable submitting something in writing or completing an anonymous survey.
Here are some ideas:
- Ask each employee for a list of important dates (including family members) and what their ideal schedule would be like. For example, is there one day of the week they wish they could attend their favorite workout class or their child’s soccer game?
- Ask staff members what parts of veterinary medicine and their job energize them and brings them joy and what parts drain them. Give them a week to reflect on the answers and to present it in whichever format they feel comfortable.
Allowing space for honesty and vulnerability in the workplace and truly valuing and respecting feedback is an incredible way to establish trust and loyalty among staff. Use this information to guide decisions around scheduling and job roles to show your staff that you care.
Read more: Is your hospital busier than ever? 3 tips for meeting demand.
Tip #3: Create a workplace environment where employees feel supported in and outside of the hospital.
Often, employees are spending more time at work than anywhere else. Work influences all aspects of life. Identifying common areas where employees aren’t feeling fulfilled in and outside of work is a powerful opportunity to create a supportive environment where employees want to come to work.
Within the hospital, what are the common complaints?
Is everyone commenting about disrespectful clients? Do they feel like there’s not enough time to get everything done? Are walk-ins a frequent cause of stress?
Addressing and finding real solutions for these issues is an incredible opportunity to show your hospital that they have a voice and that their opinion matters.
Outside of work, is there a common theme employees are struggling with?
To get a holistic perspective on employee wellbeing, ask your staff members to complete the Circle Of Life exercise and to submit it anonymously.
Does everyone feel like they don’t have time for fitness?
- What about adding a 15-minute walk break?
- Is there extra space to set up a little workout area to use during a lunch break?
- Can you offer a yoga class one morning each week before the hospital opens?
Is everyone struggling when it comes to their nutrition or health? Work together as a team to support each other with healthy habits!
- Ask everyone to bring in an ingredient for an epic salad bar
- Replace pizza lunches for a more nourishing lunch option that leaves the staff feeling energized for the rest of the day
- Commit to boosting energy as a team with these 8 simple actions and provide (nourishing) rewards for everyone who participates. Create a quiet energy boosting nook where employees could go when they feel drained. Provide nourishing options for hydrating and fueling the brain, space for an “exercise snack” or meditating, and art supplies for writing successes, gratitude, or other energy boosting ideas.
- Embark on approaching health from a nourishing and holistic perspective as a team with this 7 Day Guide. Talk about the takeaways as a team to identify how you can support each other. For example, stocking the break room with real-food snack options, changing conversations around body image or weight loss, or implementing stress-busting hacks
Is everyone stressed about finances?
- Arrange for staff members to meet with a financial planner.
- Provide access to a webinar or self-guided course on budgeting.
- Make sure you’re paying your staff fairly.
Are they struggling with down time or self care?
- Offer a small stipend for employees to use outside of work to treat themselves AND give them an extra 1-2 hours off from work to make sure it happens!
In our profession, it’s very easy to get caught up in the medicine and our patients. But veterinary medicine is hard. We work long days. Helping to support who your employees are outside of the hospital will help them to show up energized and as their best self in the hospital.
Staff members will be more ready to provide exceptional care to their patients and clients when they’re given the opportunity and support to take care of themselves.
Tip #4: Establish a zero tolerance policy for bullies.
There is absolutely no reason for a hospital to cater to a client who is demanding or disrespectful to staff. Every time a hospital enables this behavior, we perpetuate a toxic cycle.
When a hospital allows a client to be rude or disrespectful, it sends a very clear message to the staff that clients are the priority. Tolerating this kind of behavior stems from a fear of losing a client or getting a bad review, ultimately resulting in potential loss of revenue. This is incredibly shortsighted.
Consider the real impact. Accommodating a toxic client crushes hospital morale, increases feelings of overwhelm, and establishes a hierarchy where staff are at the bottom. On top of that, the added drama and time spent with the client disrupts the workflow causing a detrimental domino effect.
The outcome is often increased wait times for scheduled appointments, flustered or distracted staff, and less time to connect with and educate respectful clients. By trying to keep one toxic client happy, staff, patients, and wonderful clients all suffer. Why is this the norm?!
When most disrespectful clients realize their behavior won’t get them what they want, they change their tune. Teach your team effective communication skills that focus on the common goal (the pet’s well-being) to increase the likelihood of a satisfying and civil outcome for all parties involved.
By establishing a zero-tolerance policy towards bullies, you empower the entire team, save time, and eliminate unnecessary stress and drama.
Read more: Building a thriving veterinary team through fiscal security
Tip #5: Minimize overbooking.
We all want to help every patient, but the reality is we can’t. When a hospital exceeds its saturation point, continuing to accept patients is detrimental to staff, patients, and clients.
The “we turn nothing away” mentality leads to exhausted employees who feel like they have failed no matter how hard they work. It removes the opportunity for staff to say “no” even when they’re at a breaking point (or fosters guilt if they do). When staff are overwhelmed and not given a voice, morale and retention tanks along with the productivity of the hospital.
As productivity declines and appointments are overbooked, patient care and client satisfaction suffers.
A hectic and rushed environment creates a fearful environment for pets, hurried physical exams, distracted employees, and greater potential for mistakes. When wait times increase and communication breaks down, clients aren’t happy. The overall net impact is not financially or emotionally rewarding in the long run.
Rather than trying to see every patient (an impossible task these days), work as a team to problem-solve. Foster excellent communication skills to educate your clients and to help them feel heard and supported even when you’re fully booked. When staff feel respected, empowered, and are given a voice, they’re motivated to boost hospital success.
Problem-solve together for alternatives to overbooking. For example, reflect on how pet insurance or telehealth could be used in your practice to boost productivity and decrease client stress.
Tip #6: Create a mission that puts your staff first.
Take one look at almost any veterinary hospital mission statement, and it’s clear that patients and clients are the top priority. There’s always an underlying message that the hospital provides high-quality medicine and care because the staff are exceptional, compassionate, and love what they do.
Every hospital shares this mission, so it doesn’t set anyone apart. It does, however, prioritize clients and patients and takes devoted employees for granted — a detrimental oversight.
It may seem counterintuitive to have a mission focused around employee satisfaction rather than patients, but it’s not. Veterinary medicine is full of people who are in this profession because of a passion to help and treat animals.
We don’t need to be told to care about animals and to provide high quality care, that’s what we’re here to do. Clients also don’t need to be told that’s what your hospital does — they expect it.
Veterinary professionals need to be supported so that they can continue to show up every day to follow their passion. If you create an environment where your employees feel empowered, energized, and motivated, patient care and client satisfaction will flourish.
Every veterinary hospital has an opportunity to lead by example. These days, sign-on bonuses don’t even set you apart. Veterinarians don’t want to feel trapped, they want to feel heard and supported.
When you take care of your employees, your hospital will thrive.
Any additional tips you’d add to this list? Drop us a note and let us know.
Amelia Knight, VMD, cVMA, INHC is an Associate IndeVet and a veterinary life coach. Learn more at lifeboost.today and follow her on Instagram at @lifeboostwithamelia.
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