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Toxic Attitudes You May Find In A Veterinary Practice

Toxic sign representing toxic attitudes in veterinary practices.

One of the least discussed - yet best things about being a vet is spending time with colleagues you love. But what happens when your team becomes embroiled in drama?

Toxic behaviors can tear apart a team – whether it is a problematic trait in an individual employee or a general vibe in your practice. Being able to spot and deal with toxic attitudes quickly is essential if you want to maintain harmony in the workplace.

But what are some of these toxic traits? And how can you deal with them effectively? We discuss this below.

Common Toxic Attitudes Found In Veterinary Practices

The Dodger

Picture this. You are in the clinic, and it is all hands on deck. Everyone is busy with clients, and you are running around like a headless chicken. The team is completely stacked, apart from one colleague who you glimpse mulling around doing nothing useful.

‘Hey, do you mind helping me with [insert an important task]?’

‘Sorry - that is not my job.’

Not an ideal situation, you will agree. Although work boundaries are fantastic (especially when it comes to burnout), individuals who shirk off clear responsibility and lump work upon others can be incredibly frustrating to work with.

Often, disputes can arise over refusals to help with small tasks, such as answering calls, filling prescriptions, cleaning kennels, doing laundry, or holding animals.

One way you can manage such individuals is by outlining everyone’s work responsibilities from the start. Building clarity in expectation has several key benefits. First, when work is carefully assigned to a role, the time has been spent assessing how much work a single person can do, preventing overload.

This clarity also makes it very hard for anyone to claim the task was ‘not in my job description’. It also offers a clear opportunity for corrective feedback to be given.

Workloads will change over time, so it is good to regularly check in with your team if further amendments are needed and update objectives and accountabilities.

The Mood Polluter

A vet standing with crossed arms.

We have all worked with a ‘Debi Downer’.

You know the ones. They’re always moaning, whether that would be about clients, staff members, or even patients. They suck the energy out of the room faster than a Dementor, creating a toxic atmosphere that brings everyone down.

Though we all have our bad days, mood polluters are persistently negative and unrealistically pessimistic. Cynical attitudes can permeate throughout the clinic, putting everyone in a bad mood before work even begins. This has implications in terms of workplace motivation, productivity, and rapport.

One way you can deal with a ‘Debi Downer’ is by hiring based on values. Recruiting new teammates that fit both your company culture and values can prevent hiring mistakes such as this.

It should be worth mentioning that sometimes, mood polluters may just be struggling emotionally with the job. Because they are overwhelmed, they may be inadvertently bringing everyone down by venting. In this case, you should approach the situation empathetically – but with clear feedback to help address the behavior.

Check-in with how they are feeling; remaining open-minded. Ask how things are going, as there is a good chance that they will not miss the opportunity to download their ‘thought bucket’ onto you.

Listen with the intent to understand what is going on, asking questions to get clarity. Once you have a grasp of the situation, the feedback pathway will become clear- and your advice and direction will follow accordingly.

To prevent toxic venting, you might also look into some effective debriefing strategies, which can help the team vent in a healthy, non-toxic way. A good debrief can also prevent organizational compassion fatigue- so learning this skill can be a great addition to your leadership toolkit.

The Task Horder

This problem behavior seems to be particularly prevalent within veterinary teams.

These ‘go-to’ people in veterinary teams struggle to relinquish control to others. Whether it is because they think they are the most qualified or enjoy authority, it can become problematic when they hoard tasks or intentionally keep others in the dark.

High-skill vets who task-hoard can be highly productive and good for business. But they can also destroy the morale of younger, less experienced vets when they fail to teach them what they know. Unmentored and unappreciated, these new vets are more likely to wither and lose confidence.

Less experienced vets, on the other hand, are at risk of making mistakes if they exhibit this behavior because they tend not to consult others or get a second opinion before taking action.

If you have a vet demonstrating this trait, it is time to put your management skills to the test. The first thing you should do is check whether your reward system might inadvertently be encouraging this behavior. If, for example, your senior vet gets paid on production, they are never going to give the cases away, and the problem will persist.

In this circumstance, think about what you want your senior vet to do and build a reward structure that enables this. A flat-rate salary that accounts for the experience and rewards with a bonus for measurable graduate skill development would be a better fit in this situation.

Increasingly, as traditional ownership structures change and corporate practices grow, the need for senior vets to take up more mentoring and coaching responsibility is increasing. As such, teaching the skills of delegation, training, mentoring, and coaching looks like a great medium to a long-term bet.

The hidden benefit, of course, is that the relationship between mentor and mentee grows with time and can become incredibly strong – a win for culture development in your clinic¹.

The Takeaway

Toxic behaviors in the veterinary profession can be tricky to deal with. But one thing for sure is, when left unchecked, they spread and cause malaise within your culture.

The trick to preventing toxic behaviors in the workplace is early intervention. Though giving feedback takes skill and courage, when provided early, it allows a gentle steer back in the right direction. A conversation that comes with far less weight than a performance conversation after a year of poor behavior left unchecked.

As is often the case, leaders who pay attention to culture/values fit during the hiring process tend to avoid these issues. Those who live and breathe the cultural code, offering corrective feedback where needed and supportive where earned, will have far healthier practices than those who ignore the problem hoping it will work itself out.

To learn more about toxic veterinary workplaces and how you can avoid them, check out this article: ‘Do You Have a Toxic Veterinary Workplace? Here’s What You Need To Do’

Want to improve your leadership skills?
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1 - ‘Exploring the Impact of Toxic Attitudes and a Toxic Environment on ….’ 23 Dec. 2015, Accessed 27 Jul. 2021.


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