How to Create Workplace Culture of Engagement

Every veterinary practice has a workplace culture, whether you've worked on developing it or not. Your practice's culture is essentially its personality; it includes qualities such as how engaged your employees are, your management technique, your values, and communication style.

What Is a Positive Workplace Culture?

When walking into a practice that has a culture based on fear of failure, punishment, and retaliation, you can feel it immediately. Tension fills the air, and employees are slow to take responsibility for meeting client needs out of fear they'll do something wrong or step on someone's toes. I'll never forget working relief in a practice that had signs posted everywhere outlining the punishment if X, Y, or Z was either done or not. Many employees were paralyzed with fear, or worse, they were indifferent to the threats and did the bare minimum to survive. As you can imagine, days working at that practice were very long and painful.

But walking into a practice with a supportive culture is a breath of fresh air. Team members know what's expected of them, they're encouraged to solve problems, and they take ownership of the practice's success.

A Healthy Culture Helps Your Practice Thrive

Many days, practice managers are just trying to get through another crisis, making it difficult to take the time to work on cultivating workplace culture day after day. You might think that if you focus on making employees happy, they'll want to stay, and your practice will naturally thrive, right? The challenge with focusing on making employees happy is that what makes one employee happy might not work for another. And unfortunately, happiness can be fleeting.

On the other hand, a workplace culture that engages and challenges employees while providing a sense of belonging makes them feel valued and satisfied. For an engaged employee, going to work every day is more than just a job; they feel enthusiastic and passionate about what they do. Engaged employees are more productive and care about their work and the success of the practice. This helps you to provide the best service possible to your clients and their pets. The more engaged employees are, the higher clients' satisfaction, which ultimately leads to higher revenues.

How to Create a Strong Culture

  1. If you already have a mission statement and a set of core values, use them to lay the foundation for a healthy culture. For example, if your practice values respect, teamwork, and professional growth, think about how you can create an environment that challenges all of your team members to embrace a culture of engagement. Here are some tips for creating a strong culture:
  2. Meet with each employee to discuss their goals and find out what they're passionate about.
  3. Give your employees the ability to work on new projects and ideas, and the freedom to grow in their roles. Does your receptionist love posting cute photos of patients to Facebook? Create a training plan to help her learn about social media management.
  4. Provide a continuing education budget to all employees, not just those who need to renew their licenses. Invest in each person, from DVMs to front desk employees to veterinary assistants, to make your practice a richer community with a more diverse set of skills, interests, and ideas.
  5. Ask your team for ideas about how to change the practice for the better, and then be willing to implement their suggestions.
  6. Create a bonus program that rewards employees for improvement. Tie the bonus into performance goals, so that team members who take on more responsibility are rewarded accordingly.

Creating a culture of engagement is challenging; it won't happen overnight. But it can be the difference between a practice that's thriving and one that's merely surviving. Take the time to show your staff that each of them is valued to start creating a culture where you, your staff, and your business can thrive.

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Julie Miles
DVM

Julie Miles graduated from Ohio State in 2006. Dr. Miles spent two and a half years working in private practice. She then joined Lighthouse Veterinary Personnel Services in 2009, where she worked as a relief veterinarian and manager for five years. In 2014, she opened Compassionate Care Animal Hospital, which has grown into a two doctor practice. Her professional interests include client communications, preventative care, dentistry, and feline medicine. She and her husband, Dale, have two boys, Henry and Evan. In a previous life, she earned her Master's of Social Work and worked in crisis intervention and discharge planning. Some days that degree is more helpful than her DVM.

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