Most of us spend the bulk of our waking hours at work. So, it’s important that we feel respected, supported and appreciated in our work environment.
However, numerous studies show that’s not the case for the majority of employees in today’s workforce.
Work-related stress can be a significant cause of mental and physical illness. And, it’s linked to costly problems like absenteeism and employee turnover.
Veterinarians in practice are expected to excel in an incredible array of stressful demands. Demands that begin with educational standards prior to admission to a veterinary college, which continue to escalate throughout multiple years of medical training and then mushroom with entrance into the profession. Finally, we have begun to recognize the reality of potential effects of high-stress levels veterinarians face by juggling a variety of non-negotiable responsibilities. For example:
- Maintaining up-to-date knowledge of a broad variety of medical knowledge across multiple species;
- Keeping clients happy;
- Dealing with conflicting ethical issues;
- Hiring, training and maintaining a highly qualified staff.
Sadly, tragic consequences for several well-known colleagues have resulted in numerous studies and articles focusing on mental health issues experienced by a large number of veterinarians. Terms we see in use now include:
- Compassion Fatigue
With so many issues screaming for our attention, it’s no wonder we often overlook a fundamental factor that’s capable of either intensifying or providing relief to the stress of practicing veterinary medicine in 2015 and beyond. That factor is usually referred to as “office culture” or “workplace culture.”
Office culture can be defined as ” the social context in which work and other interactions take place. In other words, it's "the way things get done around here.” It's the on-the-ground expression of the values, routines, and practices that govern not just work (the way policies and procedures do), but the interactions that people have while they're working.” (Source)
Of course, every workplace has its own personality or atmosphere. And those can vary from very negative (stressful) to very positive (fun). A quick Google search confirms the prevalence of high stress associated with businesses of all sizes.
We’ll take a look at some benefits of a positive office culture shortly, but first let me share a glimpse of what I observed in a recent trip to Italy.
A Shining Example of Positive Office Culture
Italians have a word for a family-owned restaurant. It’s called a “trattoria.” Every time I’ve enjoyed a meal in one of these establishments, their “workplace culture” has seemed as pleasing as the cuisine. There’s a palpable atmosphere of happiness and cooperation among the staff, from the greeters, to the servers and to the chefs.
Many of them traditionally bring out “Mamma” at the end of the meal to mingle with diners and pose for pictures. Before leaving, everyone feels almost like part of the family. Who wouldn’t want to emulate that in their veterinary practice?
Benefits of a Positive Office Culture
According to best-selling author, Patrick Lencioni, intelligence, knowledge and expertise are overrated as driving forces behind successful companies. In an article in Inc. Magazine, he says organizational health is severely underrated. In healthy organizations, management, strategy, operations and culture all fit together in ways that make sense.
He goes on to say that leaders of successful companies repeatedly insist that they cherish their cultures more than they do any single strategy or form of intellectual property.
So, what’s the pay-off that causes them to come to such a conclusion? Consider the following list of a few benefits you can expect to see in a healthy office culture where stress and anxiety are greatly diminished.
- Improved Productivity
Theoretically there is no limit to improved productivity— so long as leaders keep working on the culture.
When it’s evident that leaders want everyone to be involved, people step forward energetically in creative and productive ways.
- Stronger Financial Results
One well-regarded study indicates that companies with positive cultures typically increase revenues 3x and generate net incomes over 700% higher than average companies.
- Recruiting Advantages
We all understand the priority of hiring the right people. The best job seekers will recognize a healthy office culture, and that can give your practice a distinct advantage in attracting the best and brightest.
- Superior Client Service
Healthy and positive attitudes naturally spill over into relationships with clients. And clients who sense a healthy atmosphere in practice team members enjoy returning for visits.
- Safety Rates Go Up
In a safe work culture, people speak up about unsafe situations. They don’t remain silent when someone violates safe practices. They constantly look for ways to improve safety, and they take personal responsibility for creating and maintaining a safe workplace.
- Higher Retention Rates
Most employee-oriented companies experience low turnover rates. They ask for input from all employees and maintain a true open-door policy. Where needs are met and contributions are acknowledged, people have little reason to leave.
- Absenteeism Goes Down
Job satisfaction reduces stress, which can affect job performance, mental and physical health. Reduced absenteeism from illness translates into highly significant savings in lost production. An added benefit is reduced stress on doctors and staff resulting from “covering” for absentees.
The list of benefits associated with a healthy office culture could go on much longer. But, the most beneficial of all comes down to a feeling of satisfaction and happiness at the end of each day at work. Working in an environment like that can go a long way in mitigating the likelihood of burnout, depression, compassion fatigue and perhaps even suicide.
Definitely Worth the Cost
The cost of cultivating a healthy office culture will always be less than the cost of an unhealthy one.
The good news is that a healthy workplace culture is attainable. In a future article, we’ll take a look at steps you can take to develop and maintain a healthy culture in your practice.