Everyone wants a happy, healthy workplace. But what happens when you get exactly the opposite of that?
A toxic workplace (often identified by its characteristically dysfunctional attributes) can be highly detrimental for both veterinary managers and staff alike.
Whilst successful teams experience enhanced patient outcomes, poorly functioning ones are much more prone to error1.
But what are the causes and signs of a toxic veterinary workspace? And what can practice owners and managers do to prevent them?
What Are the Causes of Practice Toxicity?
Although workplace tensions can be complex, there are generally two main causes for them:
Poor Employee Communication- though much of what veterinarians do is communicative, many lack the skills to effectively do so. Staff members who lack the confidence or ability to express their feelings can inadvertently exacerbate tensions by exhibiting passive-aggressive behaviors. This can result in communication breakdowns.
Bad Leadership- the behavior of management can have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the clinic. Team leaders who don’t effectively manage their team’s workloads may experience higher levels of turnover and dissatisfaction overall. Exhausted and frustrated individuals may also show up as snide or irritable- worsening relations2.
Signs of a Toxic Veterinary Workplace
Signs of a toxic workplace include but are not limited to:
-Unprofessional behaviors such as staff members trying to ‘tear each other down.’
-Devious ‘work politics’
-High levels of negativity (towards the job and other staff members)
-Aggression (from both employees and management)
Toxic workplaces are psychologically unsafe places. Therefore, a multifaceted approach is often required to prevent (or deal with) them effectively3.
How To Prevent a Toxic Workplace
Leaders must consider the role they play in workplace conflict.
For instance, if your practice is experiencing an us vs them dynamic– consider why this is the case.
Is it because scapegoating is generally unchallenged in your practice? Or because your co-workers do not have the confidence to air their qualms?
Overbearing managers can inadvertently create a climate where teammates are scared to own their mistakes (or challenge others), leading to conflict avoidance and blame deflection. Passive leaders on the other hand may turn a blind eye to scapegoating, hence allowing its continuation.
Being proactive can help owners and practice managers immensely. Create a list of values and institute them into your practice. If teamwork is a core value of your practice, ensure that ‘toxic’ behaviors (such as gossiping) are addressed quickly.
Doing so can help nip bad behaviors in the bud before they escalate.
Hire and Fire By Your Values
Practice leaders who struggle with interpersonal conflict should examine their hiring processes.
Are you recruiting employees who complement the attributes of your existing team? Are you assessing value fit as well as skill fit?
Perhaps there are too many big personalities domineering the practice, or conversely not enough people stepping up.
Is everyone adhering to and abiding by the same procedural and behavioral standards? Or are staff members clashing over irregularities in process?
Many conflicts arise from poor hiring and training practices. Refining these processes, therefore, can increase the chances of obtaining someone who fits within the team.
Whilst firing difficult team members is not always necessary, living by your values and terminating staff who severely breach your core values can send a clear message to others regarding what is tolerated.
Pay Attention To Workplace Dynamics
Sometimes, workplace tensions can be driven by individuals.
The issue with uprooting said individuals lies in their ability to fly under the radar.
Whilst ‘toxic’ members of the team may present as star workers when you’re around, behind closed doors, their conduct may be entirely different. Other team members may be reluctant to air their grievances to management and tolerate such behavior, creating an atmosphere of resentment and toxicity in the workplace.
If you think you may have a covert toxic worker, schedule some one-on-one chats with your employees. Check-in on how everyone is doing, and observe how everyone interacts as a collective.
Tensions can frequently be observed through body language and choice wording. Are certain team members avoiding each other? How is work being delegated, and is it being disproportionately done so?
These are all key insights that can help identify covert toxicity.
Toxic veterinary workplaces can be highly detrimental to the well-being of clients, staff, and management.
Workplace wellbeing is an output of intentional culture development and is an ongoing process, which will change and evolve as the team grows/shifts. Occasional conflict is normal (and to a degree, healthy) but prolonged and unresolved tensions can be immensely toxic.
If you’re struggling with interpersonal relations in your clinic, you should check out our: ‘How to Run a Successful Veterinary Practice-Without all the Drama’ webinar.
This webinar teaches practice managers and owners everything they need to know about leadership, outlining the pitfalls to avoid and how to effectively manage others.
To check it out, click here.
1-‘Exploring the Impact of Toxic Attitudes and a Toxic … – Frontiers.’ 23 Dec. 2015, https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2015.00078/full. Accessed 27 Apr. 2021.
2-‘Exploring the Impact of Toxic Attitudes and a Toxic Environment on ….’ 23 Dec. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4688347/. Accessed 27 Apr. 2021.
3-‘Toxic Workplace Environment: In Search for the Toxic Behaviours in ….’ https://ideas.repec.org/a/lum/rev3rl/v8y2017i1p83-109.html. Accessed 27 Apr. 2021.