How to establish a healthy workplace ecosystem at your veterinary practice

Why motivation is important

Motivation means different things to different people and finding out what motivates your team members helps them to strategically place them in the right roles, to form overarching working groups and to address small and large problems in the work environment. Before we catalog a person’s motivational impulse, however, we need to identify a few things that not only thwart motivation, but also demotivate your team members. In the corporate world, these motivational vampires are known, if you will, as “hygiene factors,” a term coined by social psychologist Frederick Irving Herzberg. Due to the uniqueness of the veterinary field, a modification of Professor Herzberg’s traditional hygiene factors is required. Once identified, you need to take steps to eliminate or limit the harmful effects of these factors. Not activated – they can destabilize a team. Below is my modified list of motivational factors, including the importance of each factor to the veterinary workplace.

Ineffective supervision or guidance

Many of us can attest to the trickle-down effects of poor hospital management. Without proper guidance and supervision, the company’s goals become unclear or, worse, unattainable. Bad leadership leaves a void that is often filled with apathy and dissatisfaction. Apathy then turns into cynicism and ultimately into high turnover. Adequate guidance is needed to keep the team focused on the hospital’s mission and goal statements and to provide guidance on how to achieve those goals while meeting the day-to-day demands of clients and patients.

Ineffective or restrictive policies or practices

Some guidelines are set too broadly without considering the specific needs of individual hospitals within a network. In this case, a rift arises between senior management, middle management and employees. If policymakers fail to take into account the personal toll these tasks can take, morale declines and burnout occurs. An obstructive policy disregards or does not understand the human capital required to achieve goals under the guise of certain policies. Treating people or hospitals as monoliths creates problems when the desired results don’t occur, which can lead to wrong decisions or referrals. Management goals may not be readily available to local employees, creating the appearance of conflicting, if not competing, motivations. Unclear guidelines or guidelines that are difficult to explain to the workforce are more likely to meet with resistance, so that the opportunity is missed to come up with ideas on how the company’s goals can be better achieved.

Bad working conditions

The quality of workplace conditions is an often overlooked dimension in veterinary medicine. Subtle changes to these conditions can help remove work stress and stimulate innovative thought processes. Factors that contribute to poor working conditions include shortened lunch breaks; Double booking of appointments; small and overcrowded break rooms; extensive and heavily used layers; be understaffed; and loud, incessant noises. Poor working conditions, which may be due to intrinsic and extrinsic factors or a combination, can also be an insidious form of stress and lead employees to have pessimistic views about the workplace.

Negative peer relationships

Negative peer relationships lead directly to a toxic work environment. No matter how inspired or motivated the individuals are, if they don’t work well together there will be retreat. Deceit and corporate gossip are early signs of an unhealthy work ecosystem. Team members who can’t stand being around are less likely to see the value of their teammates and seek help less when faced with a task that is beyond their capabilities. As a result, mistakes are made, responsibility is avoided, and blame is exaggerated. Negative peer relationships turn healthy task-based conflicts into dysfunctional relationship-based conflicts. Teams that don’t work well together can have a negative impact on the bottom line of the company. Additionally, clients may feel a dysfunction that creates dismay and discomfort when interpreting their pet’s care.

High turnover

High fluctuation is both a cause and a consequence of declining motivation. High turnover results in older and more experienced workers experiencing burnout. Veterans can also be charged a “teaching tax” if they constantly have to teach new team members. Historically high fluctuation rates can indirectly signal to employees that this place is a stepping stone or not that is worth investing in over the long term. High turnover disrupts team loyalty and leads to setbacks in building a device that is better tailored to the needs of the hospital or clinic and the customer base. Turnover due to the removal of obvious hiring errors is necessary but should not be associated with the loss or displacement of otherwise exceptional employees.

Any one or a combination of the above will dull motivation and must be addressed before attempting to meet individual motivational needs. If the factors are not diagnosed, they can metastasize and become a catalyst for demotivation. In order for your team to achieve their full potential, there must be an ongoing assessment of the workplace ecosystem and mechanisms in place to help identify motivational barriers.

The list above has been tailored to the unique aspects of veterinary medicine and specifically takes into account the additional, potentially inherent, stress of caring for companion animals. Now that we have a better understanding of possible motivational obstacles, I ask you to implement strategies to overcome these obstacles in your clinic.

Charles D. McMillan, DVM, is a veterinarian for IndeVets based in Atlanta, Georgia and serves on the editorial board of dvm360®. Graduated from Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2012, he has a keen interest in promoting public understanding of veterinary medicine, finding ways to promote a healthy ecosystem in the veterinary workplace, and exploring workable solutions to make veterinary medicine more diverse and fairer. You can find him on Instagram @yourfavoritepetdoc or visit his website at

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