When leaders fail to manage burnout, the result can be tangible business interruption. We see an increase in employee sick leave, a decrease in team morale and effectiveness and, when burnout becomes chronic, a significant increase in staff turnover.

It becomes essential then to properly and effectively manage burnout and fatigue across the entire team, while providing clear direction and leadership to drive focus and effectiveness. While there are many strategies that can effectively manage burnout in veterinary clinics, there are some fundamental strategies that all veterinary practices should engage as part of their COVID-19 burnout response plan.

It is critical that stress and fatigue are normalised across the team

Ignoring the impacts of burnout can be incredibly detrimental and accelerate any negative impacts. Whilst normalising burnout is critical, in the same vein it is essential that we are not dramatizing burnout, stress or fatigue. We need to create space to recognize its presence in and impacts on the team, and then engage additional management strategies to support team members.

Effective teams create time in the day for basic resilience measures, such as ensuring team members are able to take a break, eat lunch, hydrate and connect with colleagues in a social capacity. Whilst many veterinary clinics have experienced an increase in patient visit numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, effective and efficient operational management with a strong communication plan can ensure it is possible to establish time in the day for team members to engage in these resilience measures.

Clear communication strategies are critical

Additional workplace strategies to manage burnout and fatigue are to ensure a clear operational and communications plan is established. This is especially critical with focus given to the COVID-19 crisis, where veterinary clinics experienced an extremely rapid rate of change.

Likewise, team development strategies must be included in all plans to combat burnout. Debriefing with your team after traumatic events is a non-negotiable necessity. Team building activities can support stressed teams to improve communication and teamwork. Recognition for employee contribution is critical. Clinic leaders must celebrate the wins, no matter how big or how small. Creating an environment where employees feel valued and appreciated is an effective offense of the impacts of burnout.

Promoting wellness strategies

In responding to burnout, it is important that clinic leaders encourage employees to utilise response measures both at work and in their personal lives. Promoting wellness strategies, encouraging the development of a self-care plan and training the team to develop emotional intelligence are all strategies that employees can engage in the workplace but all in a personal domain.

Measuring the effectiveness of all burnout reduction strategies is essential. Clinic leaders should be regularly practicing sensory acuity and checking the emotional ‘temperature’ of their team. This can be done in a variety of ways from one-on-one conversations with team members, to measuring team harmony and effectiveness, measuring and reviewing sick leave and annual leave usage, and monitoring employee engagement at work.

Developing resilience has been a highly demanded training session over the past three months, and this interest has been driven by the effects of COVID-19. We have seen extensive positive impacts on employee satisfaction, wellbeing and teamwork, as well as on operational success, in veterinary clinics who have engaged further support for their team in developing resilience and emotional intelligence.

You can find out more information on our business training and support resources here.

Sue Crampton
Business Manager – Animal Industries Resource Centre/Crampton Consulting Group

Often the key to dealing with overworking and burnout is to recognise the warning signs, and seek support through speaking with someone you trust, or with one of the many organisations able to help such as Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or the AVA’s 24-hour counselling service on 1300 687 327.