Unexpected team gifts and incentives can be a fun way to increase veterinary team morale, but these strategies can be expensive and may only provide a short-term boost—especially during tough times.
Creating a work environment that is built on clear and open communication is an economical, practical, and beneficial way to positively influence practice culture and create a supportive and psychologically safe workspace where team members are engaged, appreciated, and invested.
Here are five ways to build your team’s morale with the gift of better communication.
#1: Help team members understand their place in the practice
Lack of feedback can negatively impact team productivity and engagement. Team members who are unsure about their abilities, including strengths and weaknesses, will struggle to progress in their roles because they lack self-confidence and experience increased stress.
Regular communication—including simple five-minute check-ins to acknowledge each team member, find out how they’re doing, or provide basic feedback—creates inclusivity, builds resilience, improves motivation, and gives purpose and direction to the team’s daily tasks. Try to give specific feedback, such as, “You did so well managing that angry client earlier, thank you for being such a great example of our practice,” or “I’d love to see your intubation skills improve. I’ll ask the lead technician to coach you through a few.”
#2: Communicate according to individual preferences
While some team members appreciate direct feedback, others may have trouble with the social pressure of face-to-face communication. This may prevent your team from hearing and absorbing the message—including positive praise—and avoid addressing important concerns because they don’t want to engage in a direct conversation.
Provide several communication options for your team (e.g., in-person, email, or text) and allow them to select their preferred method. With this approach, team members who prefer the personal touch of direct communication can still enjoy one-on-one conversations and those who need more time to process information without social pressures feel comfortable interacting with practice leadership and have a space to speak their mind.
#3: Be transparent about relevant business challenges
Strong team morale isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, it’s being able to push through tough times as a cohesive and focused unit. If your practice is facing significant challenges (e.g., staffing shortages, budget cuts, a negative review, or a corporate buyout), be honest and upfront with your team. Trying to protect your staff from the realities of business will only create a culture of suspicion and fear, which may cause some team members to preemptively leave the practice.
Building a culture of transparency helps your team members feel respected and valued and lets them see how their contributions play a role in the bigger picture. Instead of allowing hardship to divide your team, draw them closer and unify them by including them in business-related conversations.
#4: Be present and available
If your team only ever sees practice leaders rushing out the door at day’s end, hurrying to other commitments, or working from home they will eventually mirror this sense of detachment from the practice and, potentially, from other team members. This can lead to decreased productivity (e.g., quiet quitting), staff turnover, and potentially dangerous work-related mistakes.
Prevent this unnecessary risk and potential loss by being a steady presence in the practice. Create open door hours for staff to stop in for a quick chat, make spontaneous rounds on the clinic floor and lend a helping hand, and occasionally stay late in case anyone wants to talk after their shift. Get to know your team and their interests outside of work.
Presenting yourself as an accessible, invested, and communicative leader will help your team feel supported, engaged, and bonded to the practice.
#5: Strengthen team communication for less conflict and stronger work dynamics
Team conflict and tension arises from inadequate communication, as team members do not or cannot openly discuss interpersonal issues, challenges, or frustrations. In addition to decreased morale, poor team communication can compromise productivity and patient safety.
Like other skills, communication requires training and effort. Help your team understand the nuances of clear and effective communication by setting a positive example, hosting team-building activities, and providing training opportunities where team members can learn and rehearse critical communication skills, such as active listening, group communication, conflict resolution, and navigating emotional or difficult conversations.
Veterinary medicine is an emotionally-demanding profession. Cultivating and maintaining a positive team morale with effective communication can help teams to not only stay resilient and unified through seemingly endless challenges, but also experience the satisfaction of a collaborative and cohesive effort to care for pets and their people