6 steps to a positive practice culture

Workplace culture has never been more important. People in every industry are citing it as a huge factor in where they choose to work–and how long they choose to stay there.

And in the vet industry, where both human and animal emotions run high and the stakes are higher still, a positive culture is priceless. Whether you’re building a new practice or starting a new job, taking these steps towards a better culture will make all the difference to how your team performs, how they feel, and how your clients and patients feel.

Communicate clearly and frequently

Communication is important in any workplace, but it’s essential in a medical practice. But what does good communication really look like in a busy veterinary practice? The key is to build good communication habits so you don’t have to think too hard about it. For example:

  • Regular staff meetings where all team members have the chance to suggest topics and take the lead in running the meeting.
  • Clear written protocols for when to update clients on inpatients, when to refill medications, and when to return phone calls
  • Training for all team members on how to explain common procedures clearly and discuss sensitive matters with clients
  • Speaking up about small problems before they become big ones–and balancing that with plenty of positive feedback

And speaking of feedback:

Share feedback regularly

Performance reviews may not be the first thing that springs to mind when we say “positive culture” but having regular 1:1s shows team members that they matter. It gives them a chance to share their concerns and goals, get helpful and supportive feedback, and maybe discuss getting a raise (in today’s job market, offering a raise for good performance, rather than waiting to be asked, goes a long way). This can help retain someone who’s thinking of leaving or get someone who’s struggling back on track.

Protect work-life balance

Nobody becomes a vet or vet nurse for an easy and predictable life. But while emergencies are unavoidable, there are things you can and should do to protect personal time and make sure people are fresh enough to do their best work.

  • Make sure everyone takes their allotted leave–and books it well in advance to make scheduling easier.
  • Make lunch breaks mandatory (including your own!)
  • Consider offering flexible working options, or suggesting them if you’re not a manager
  • Don’t contact team members on their days off

Create growth opportunities

Giving people opportunities to build their skills and follow their interests will help to build a positive culture. Again, if you’re not in a managerial role, suggesting or requesting learning opportunities is a great way to take initiative.

Speaking of management, letting team members handle some of the managerial stuff, like making the schedules together, running their own team meetings, or redesigning treatment sheets, will give them a sense of ownership and make them feel more engaged.

You can also create growth opportunities by creating leadership roles for people who excel in a certain area, like Client Compassion Specialist or Director of Staff Entertainment. If you’re an employee, designing a role for yourself that you think would benefit the practice and offering to take on extra responsibility will both get you noticed and uplift your whole team.

Offer fair pay and incentives

Funnily enough, people feel more positive when they’re paid what they’re worth. It’s not just about the money (although in this economy, it certainly is about the money), it’s also about feeling valued.

While your margins may be tight, offering a competitive salary is an investment in your practice culture as well as in employee attraction and retention. A little bit of generosity can pay for itself many times over.

Beyond pay, think about benefits. Some industry-specific ones many practices are starting to offer include covering licensing fees, stipends for continuing education, uniform stipends for lab coats and scrubs, free meals for staff working late, and free medical care for staff members’ pets. These are great ways to make people feel appreciated and to stay competitive.

Have fun

Forced workplace fun is depressing, but encouraging your people to make their own fun is vital. What that looks like will vary tremendously from practice to practice.

As a leader, you can encourage your team to choose and plan some fun outings together, while you cover costs and provide time off if needed. As a team member, consider asking your boss if you can organise a party, gift exchange, or whatever appeals to your squad. It’s called team bonding for a reason–it can turn a team from colleagues into a family.

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