Study suggests ways for veterinary teams to banish burnout, boost job satisfaction

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) took a look at whether team effectiveness could reduce burnout and improve job satisfaction among veterinary teams.

According to the authors, previous studies have evaluated job stress, burnout, and job satisfaction among veterinarians, but no empirical studies have focused on the entire veterinary team. 

For the study, researchers enrolled 48 animal hospitals within a one-hour drive of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, or Ridgetown, Ontario, Canada. The hospitals later received access to an online survey meant to be filled out by entire veterinary teams, which equated to 274 respondents including owner-partner veterinarians, associate veterinarians, managers, veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants, receptionists, kennel assistants, and seven people who reported other employment responsibilities.

The survey revealed that 35.3 percent of veterinary team members who responded were at high risk of burnout, which the researchers said is "concerning." Burnout and reduced job satisfaction can contribute to high turnover rates, physical and psychological health problems for staff members, decreased productivity, and lower organizational commitment.

According to researchers, the survey also appeared to show that strong team effectiveness can reduce the risk of burnout. 

"The present study found that all veterinary team members, not only veterinarians, were at risk of burnout and that elements relating to team effectiveness contributed to or detracted from an individual's level of burnout," the authors wrote. "The serious organizational and individual repercussions of burnout suggest a need for the veterinary profession to consider and address contributing factors. Individual practices can begin by evaluating the overall function of the veterinary team."

Suggestions for improving team effectiveness

Based on their study and previous studies from both human and veterinary medicine, the authors came up with suggestions for animal hospitals to improve team effectiveness, thereby preventing burnout and job dissatisfaction.

1. Increase individual engagement
"Increasing work engagement may prevent and alleviate burnout by enhancing an individual employee's energy, vigor, and resilience," researchers wrote. They also reported that respondents' job satisfaction levels appeared to be tied to how engaged they felt with their position.

Suggestions for improving individual engagement at veterinary hospitals included:

  • Acknowledging an individual's contributions to the functioning of the hospital, and making them feel like integral team members.
  • Encouraging team members to further develop their skills and knowledge.
  • Empowering team members through means such as "support and guidance, access to information about organizational activities and decisions, resources to complete their jobs in a meaningful fashion, and opportunities to grow and develop."

2. Build a better coordinated team environment
Researchers said a coordinated team environment promotes increased professional efficacy. To build a better coordinated team environment, the study's authors had several research-based suggestions:

  • Regularly evaluate internal communications to ensure all team members have the latest information.
  • Give team members the opportunity to provide suggestions aimed at improving patient and client service.
  • Recognize team members' contributions and provide them with career and knowledge development opportunities.

3. Avoid team toxicity
Working in a hospital with a toxic team environment can lead to staff burnout, higher turnover rates, lack of respect, distrust of management, and job dissatisfaction. Researchers recommended that veterinary hospitals remove toxicity from their team environments through steps including:

  • Maintaining a zero-tolerance policy for incivility.
  • Facilitating information sharing to build respect and trust.
  • Improving human resource management practices to recruit and retain qualified workers.
  • Avoiding work overload by considering current staffing levels and individual workloads.
  • Identifying and resolving conflicts efficiently, and ensuring that all employees are treated equally and fairly.

More information

To read the entire study, visit JAVMA online.