Stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue are long-overused buzzwords in the veterinary space, but mental health has become a more serious concern only recently. Recent veterinary wellbeing and burnout studies show veterinary suicide rates are rising, and veterinary staff are burning out faster than human physicians and most other professions. Stressed and burned-out staff who cannot recover typically leave the practice or profession entirely, placing more strain on remaining staff. The VESPECON team shares ways you can reduce your staff’s stress and improve their overall wellbeing. 

#1: Help staff set professional goals

A 2021 burnout study found that veterinary professionals who set and worked toward goals each year were happier, less likely to burn out, and felt more valued than peers who did not set such goals. The study authors hypothesized that high-achieving veterinary professionals may feel burned out and stagnant in their careers because of boredom, underutilization, and lack of continuous learning. Goal-setting can provide veterinary staff with a renewed purpose, and highly skilled, well-educated staff will improve your practice’s capabilities and the client experience.

#2: Turn off the phones

Veterinary teams are notorious for skipping lunch breaks, coming in early, and staying late when they cannot finish their workload during their normal day. Team members who work straight through an 8-, 10-, or 12-hour shift and skip their breaks may actually hamper their efficiency, make fatigue-related mistakes, and become more stressed. Staggered lunch breaks may not be possible if that leaves too few staff to cover the floor, so turning off the phone for an hour or so is the easiest way to ensure all staff have a moment to breathe. Set your away message to clearly state when and why the phones are turned off—clients will soon adapt, and a regular, predictable lunch hour and time to recharge can do wonders for your staff.

#3: Reduce your caseload

The 2021 burnout study also showed that case load directly correlates to staff stress and burnout. Reducing caseload is much easier said than done, but leaving openings in your schedule for same or next-day sick appointments to accommodate existing clients, rather than sending them to an ER, is one proven strategy. Another, less recognized, strategy, is streamlining case management using a telemedicine consulting service like VESPECON. Our consulting specialists can provide real-time advice to resolve complex cases more efficiently and reduce repeat visits, and our concierge-style service coordinates visits with outside specialists, so your support staff can take care of other patients. 

#4: Build a supportive culture

Stress and burnout often lead to “edgy,” angry staff members hanging by a thread, and the smallest insult can push them past their threshold. Team members who snipe at each other during their shifts break down practice culture, and you should encourage them to instead lift each other up during these moments. Set aside regular meeting times to discuss and solve practice-wide problems, and provide peer recognition, support, and gratitude opportunities, such as a note-passing practice or bulletin board filled with thank-you notes. You can also meet for judgment-free daily huddles to discuss your team’s trials and triumphs.

#5: Provide mental health resources

Most stressed veterinary professionals, or those who develop mental health concerns, do not seek help, but you can change that by providing easy access to mental health resources. Ensure your employee health plan covers mental health services with a reasonable copay, and consider offering a third-party employee assistance program for free counseling and advice during particularly tough times. Other helpful, exclusive, free resources for the veterinary community are provided by Not One More Vet and the Veterinary Mental Health Initiative

Offering these resources alone is not enough, however—you must actively encourage staff members to use them. Team members who are struggling should feel comfortable approaching management, knowing they will leave feeling supported and not judged. Also, ensure stressed team members have adequate, flexible time away to accomplish their mental health goals.

Reducing team stress and rebuilding a healthy practice culture won’t happen overnight, but VESPECON can take you one step closer. Our specialists can help you manage complex cases in fewer visits, while our concierge team can coordinate case transfers to reduce your support staff’s workload. Visit our website to learn more about the VESPECON team and the services we provide, or sign up to get started.