How to Cultivate a Healthy Office Culture in Your Practice

Here are nine tips to create an office your employees thrive in.

While unlocking the back door of your hospital on Friday morning, your mind is full of good thoughts. For example, like how fortunate you are to have the luxury of taking every Thursday off to focus on yourself and get recharged. Although there have certainly been times of friction among the staff in the past, that’s history now, and everyone is getting along happily and enjoying their work and each other.

As usual, you like to arrive a little early to review a few records, take a look at the appointments and generally begin the day a step ahead of the pack. Right away you notice the impressive number of pets seen on your off day. And there’s even a “Thank You” note on your desk from a client expressing her gratitude for the great service she experienced yesterday.

Then as others start to arrive in plenty of time to get prepared for the day, you sense a feeling of teamwork in action while they chatter and share funny stories from their lives and somehow manage to form a plan of action for the day. You probably would not use the term “healthy office culture,” but you know that attitudes are positive and the general atmosphere is pleasant.

A “healthy office culture” never just happens out of the blue. Like a productive garden, the right seeds must be planted at the right time.

Whether you read this article on the benefits of a healthy office culture or not, you know how pleasing it is when staff members all work together smoothly and happily. No one needs to explain how displeasing and stressful it is when the opposite is true. So, as the leader, where do you start? And what “seeds” can you plant?

Step Back and Work ON the Practice Instead of Just Working IN it

Veterinarians naturally tend to focus on medicine and healing. That’s a good thing, of course. But, the fact is, in the absence an intentional focus on business aspects of the practice, the quality of medicine will eventually suffer. Nothing is more foundational to both medical and business quality than the atmosphere of the workplace itself. You can read more in a 2012 article by Karin Krisher called “What Corporate Veterinary Clinics Mean to You and How to Get With the Times.

Can you plant seeds that will grow into a healthy culture in your practice? To answer that question, consider the following “seeds” you can plow into the environment of your practice and reap benefits of a healthy workplace culture.

Seed No. 1: Hire for Attitude

In an article titled, “12 Ways to a Great Corporate Culture,” Norm Brodsky makes the case that office culture starts with hiring. Far better long-term results are gained by hiring people on the basis of attitude over aptitude. Training can develop skills, but a favorable attitude can only be discovered.

Begin by listing important values in the job post. Then, let your values play a part in per-hire interviews.

Seed No. 2: Communicate Expectations

If you expect team members to contribute to a healthy culture in your practice, then that needs to be communicated from the start. Eliminating negative habits like gossip and drama won’t happen by chance. Everyone needs to understand those things will not be tolerated.

Seed No. 3:  Involve Staff Members in Team Meetings

Everyone knows it’s vastly more effective to facilitate team meetings than to put everyone to sleep with a strict agenda. Try going one step farther and rotate assignments among team members to share an informative report on a relevant subject. Expect some research and preparation for their presentation.

Seed No. 4:  Tend to the Weeds

One of the most destructive practice weeds is the whiner. They affect the team by sowing doubt, discontent and robbing the team of passion. Constructive, well-intended criticism is OK, but relentless complaining is toxic. These people must be replaced.

Seed No. 5: Listen to the Pronouns

Clients often present patients with the “ADR Syndrome.” They’re seeing some subtle signs that their pet may be ill. Wise veterinarians know the importance of paying attention and digging deeper for a diagnosis.

If you are hearing “they/them” and not “we/us,” it’s a clue your team “Ain’t Doin’ Right.” If that’s the case, Rob Rosner, author of “The Boss’s Survival Guide,” recommends starting small to right the ship. Consistently implementing steps over time is like adding small amounts of fertilizer to ensure a healthy garden.

Seed No. 6: Think Long-Term and Embrace Innovation

A healthy culture needs to look ahead, not just in months but also in years and even decades. Encourage your team to take the long view and envision what could be possible in the future.

Incorporating new and innovative medical equipment and procedures into the practice can do more than increase income. Other positive effects include:

  • Your team will take pride in knowing they are part of an up-to-date practice.
  • Team members will be more engaged by the challenge of learning new skills.
  • People who are thinking long-term along with you are more likely to stay for the long haul.

Seed No. 7: Keep a Social Calendar

Social activities outside the office allow co-workers to improve interpersonal relationships. They are more than just “play time” because they provide opportunities to:

  • Strengthen bonds
  • Breakdown barriers between peers
  • Reinforce workplace culture

By organizing social events like themed parties, outdoor activities, group sports or birthday or anniversary celebrations, the practice can demonstrate how it values its people and cares about their physical and emotional well-being.

Seed No. 8:  Watch for Opportunities to Show Support for Team Members

Broaden your definition of culture. Instead of always focusing on values such as teamwork, results or productivity, think about how you can cultivate and enrich emotional culture as well.

Provide ways for your practice to show support when individuals are facing challenging personal issues such as the death of a family member or other stressful life situations.

Healthy relationships in a positive office culture can allow for open discussions of subjects like compassion fatigue and depression as well.

Seed # 9:  Encourage Happiness at Work

In the last decade, there has been significant focus and scientific research on happiness. Happiness may seem like an intangible variable, it may seem challenging for organizations to create an environment where every employee is delighted and content. However, encouraging and fostering workplace happiness offers significant benefits.

However they describe it, experts in business education all agree that happiness makes good business sense.  Employers need to consider the happiness factor as a realistic factor in promoting strong client satisfaction and profitable practices.

No matter whether it helps to think of your practice culture as a garden, or you prefer another metaphor, the atmosphere in which people work has a tremendous influence on everything, right down to the level of care your patients receive.

What “seeds” would you ad to this list? Ask yourself, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how healthy is the office culture in my practice?”

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