Simple gestures for boosting team morale: 5 expert tips from AAHA-accredited practices

At the end of a long, intense day at a practice, just having a small treat and being encouraged to take time for yourself can ensure that team members feel valued for their whole selves rather than just their work

Adapted from Exceptional Customer Experience: 80 Tips for Compassionate Care, Clear Communication, and Authentic Client Connections (AAHA Press, 2020)

An already fast-paced work environment, global uncertainty, and sudden shifts to curbside and telemedicine have all had an impact on team morale in the past year. It’s likely that everyone at your practice feels overworked, overwhelmed, and tired. That means now is the time to invest some resources and thought into improving your team’s collective spirits as you look forward to tackling the year ahead.

Providing morale and motivation boosts can be confusing and overwhelming for any professional, especially for busy practice owners and managers who may be in a state of burnout themselves. So we turned to our own AAHA members to help us sort out some simple tips and gestures that have worked in their practices.

The AAHA staff is constantly inspired and motivated by the hospitals we serve every day. We see the excellent medicine they practice, the service they provide to their communities, and the positive, thriving cultures they create with their valued teams. We want to help amplify the voices from our member community that can help other practices in their daily work, especially when it comes to an engaged, happy work environment.

Here are five of our favorite tips from AAHA-accredited practices on how to uplift your team’s mood, productivity, and motivation even during tough times.

1. Share the Love

Positive feedback is crucial to a thriving, engaged team, particularly for veterinary professionals, who so often suffer from burnout and compassion fatigue. But knowing how, why, and where to share feedback and praise can be a challenge.

Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, of Brentwood Animal Hospital in Brentwood, Missouri, recommends starting with what you already have and sharing “your online reviews with your entire team—not just the management or marketing-focused team members. Print and post them publicly in the break room, read them out at a team meeting, or share them in a group communication channel to let your team know how much your clients appreciate their hard work—especially if the review mentions them!”

Practices can also share the responsibility to provide positive feedback by creating a platform for team members to praise and lift each other up. Melissa L. Magnuson, DVM, owner of three New Hampshire practices, said, “We have a ‘bubble board,’ which is a corkboard where staff can post pictures and words about other staff members.”

Ask your staff to pay attention throughout the day for small acts of kindness or team members who step in during a crisis. Magnuson said sharing these kinds of things “is extremely positive and promotes teamwork, compassion, and kindness.”

2. Share the Treats, Too

Sometimes, the smallest and simplest gestures can have an enormous impact on a team’s state of mind. Jamie Davis, CVPM, of Mile High Animal Hospital in Aurora, Colorado, said that, at her practice, they believe that good medicine and customer service “start with a healthy team. We have a ‘lunch locker’ in our breakroom that has nonperishable lunch and snack items for the team so no one ever goes without eating. Team members pitch in to keep the locker going.”

At the end of a long, intense day at a practice, just having a small treat and being encouraged to take time for yourself can ensure that team members feel valued for their whole selves rather than just their work.

3. Let Your Team Help Choose Their Teammates

You can’t choose your family, but everyone can have a hand in choosing their coworkers. Consider empowering and making space for every member of your staff to be involved in hiring team members. Susan Driever, practice manager at Animal Hospital Highway 6 in Sugar Land, Texas, advised managers to “involve team members in the interview process and solicit their feedback on each candidate.”

This could be as simple as routing résumés for potential candidates or making short introductions to the staff with each person who comes in for an interview. In Driever’s practice, this has benefited the existing team as well as the new hire. She explained that “taking ownership in the selection process accelerates the integration of the new hire to the team and invests them in the new hire’s success.” Turning your team into stakeholders in the hiring process can make the whole team feel more trusted and further invested in their career at the practice.

4. Institute Stay Interviews

At most practices, team members only undergo two interviews: one prehire and one when they move on to another position. Magnuson suggests changing up this norm. She explained that her hospital’s practice manager conducts “stay interviews monthly with staff.” This practice ensures that every staff member is getting a regular check-in so that they “feel listened to, empowered, and are constantly being challenged to make themselves and the practice better.”

Take some time to work staff interviews into your own practice on a schedule that makes sense for your staff, whether monthly, quarterly, or annually. Help your team feel valued and supported by establishing expectations and ongoing communication.

5. Create a Safe Workplace for Imperfection

Once a new teammate is on board, be sure that your managers and the whole staff help in creating a psychologically safe environment for mistakes, learning, and growth. Driever acknowledged that “new teammates are nervous and scared to mess up in front of an established team. If you see them struggling, or if they make a mistake, find a way to explain that this is positive.”

By removing the pressure to be perfect, the new team member’s “confidence will grow, and they will be more likely to ask for help if they need it,” because they already know they will receive support. This equally applies to your existing staff, who may need their own confidence boost after the stress of the past year.

Want more expert tips on how to improve communication and service for both team members and clients in your practice? Exceptional Customer Experience: 80 Tips for Compassionate Care, Clear Communication, and Authentic Client Connections is filled with unique ideas and creative practical tips all sourced from AAHA’s expert members. 

Photo credits: LaylaBird/E+ via Getty Images, Juanmonino/E+ via Getty Images

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