How to ease compassion fatigue within your veterinary practice

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In last week’s post – Compassion Fatigue in the Veterinary Industry – I defined compassion fatigue and shared some of the symptoms and signs to look out for within your practice. As you may recall, one of the key contributors to this condition is poor workplace culture, with bullying, a lack of respect, and poor treatment from clients being cited by a large number of respondents to the survey I conducted among support staff.

While workplace culture isn’t the only contributing factor (there are many others, including low wages, long hours and euthanasia), it is one of the primary causes that we actually have the power to change – and change is required if we want to keep burnout at bay.

So, what can you do within your practice to promote the emotional well-being of your support staff? Here are a few easy-to-implement strategies.

Keep an open dialogue

The signs of compassion fatigue are subtle. Staff members may not be walking around with a clearly visible diagnosis, but that doesn’t mean they’re not suffering. Instead of allowing the condition to remain taboo, validate it.

  • Educate staff and management
  • Share articles that raise awareness – like this one
  • Let your staff know that you care
  • Model compassion on a day-to-basis
  • Maintain an open-door policy
  • Allow staff to opt-out of assisting during surgical procedures if they express that a) they’re emotionally unable to participate; or b) they’re ethically opposed – and yes, I know this may seem radical but it’s good for your practice culture and it doesn’t have to impact productivity; more on this in a future blog

 

Foster a healthy workplace culture

In my 2017 study, one respondent said, “some days clients and staff make me feel so worthless, I don’t know why I keep going.” Another said, “I hide in the bathroom to avoid talking to co-workers when I’m feeling weak.” To avoid these symptoms of a toxic workplace culture:

  • Encourage your clients to respect staff by showcasing staff achievements both in the clinic and on social media
  • Take steps to improve relationships between management and support staff
  • Establish and clearly communicate an anti-bullying policy
  • To the best of your ability, offer fair compensation and benefits
  • Encourage work-life balance through conscientious scheduling that affords support staff adequate time off

 

Empower your staff

By consciously giving your staff opportunities to thrive both within and beyond the workplace, they’ll be more inclined to do what’s best for their well-being and for your practice. What might these opportunities include?

  • A variation in caseload and work activities
  • The freedom to support self-care and family obligations
  • A voice with respect to decision-making around practice policies and procedures
  • Continuing professional development in the interest of career longevity

 

Support their lows and celebrate their highs

Every single person I interviewed for my staff support survey stressed the importance of being able to vent in order to manage daily stress. To support the morale of your team:

  • Ensure every member is afforded both formal and informal opportunities to process heavy emotional material
  • Celebrate successes so staff feel genuinely appreciated for their contributions – people thrive off recognition
  • Come together through organized social events, such as birthday and holiday celebrations, organized team-building activities, and staff retreats

 

Take care of yourself

Before we can care for others, we must first take care of ourselves. Whether you’re a practice manager or part of the support team, you’ll be better equipped to bring your best self to the game if you:

  • Maintain boundaries and limitations on your availability
  • Don’t allow one area of your life to overpower or overshadow your identity
  • Maintain good self-care through nourishing your body, mind, and spirit

If you’re a practice manager, I’d also recommend taking the Mental Health First Aid Course. It will teach you how to identify, understand and respond to staff in crisis. Find the course nearest you.

On a final note, remember, human beings are vulnerable by nature. While it’s important to create a healthy workplace culture, not everyone will have the courage to approach a manager or colleague for help. As for outside help, 86.46% of those I interviewed were unaware of any industry-specific resources available to them. For that reason, print and post this free downloadable notice in your staff room, or create your own ‘HELP AVAILABLE’ notice listing these resources:

As mentioned in my last post, I am always open to questions or comments, so don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at wendy@savingfidosfriends.com.

Here’s to your good health, and the well-being of your team!