Flourish recently published the results of an extensive survey we ran on the experience of work satisfaction, stress management, and burnout among 1240 veterinary technicians across the country.
We found that over half of veterinary technicians report currently experiencing moderate-to-significant burnout.
As an organization committed to bringing positive psychology to veterinary medicine, this got us thinking, “what’s the opposite of burnout?”
You see, we don’t think eliminating burnout in veterinary medicine is enough. We’re not content with veterinary professionals simply surviving, we’d like to help them actually thrive in their work. They deserve it.
In this journey we’ve become interested in what psychologists call, “Subjective Vitality.” Subjective vitality is, generally, the feeling of “aliveness,” zest, or being energized. Professional vitality would, therefore, be such feelings in the context of the workplace.
Vitality is a psychological resource that can be replenished. We all have activities that energize us or, at least, help is refill our energy tanks.
If burnout is, on some level, the complete (or near-complete) depletion of energy at work, it seems it’s positive antithesis would be a sense of vitality at work. Though there isn’t a ton of research on the matter, some studies do show strong correlation between high professional vitality and low burnout.
If burnout is the depletion of energy at work, vitality might be it's positive opposite.
So, how do we both battle burnout AND increase a sense of vigor and vitality at work?
The folks at the Energy Project have given us one possible way forward.
In a fascinating organizational experiment they worked with a team of 40 accountants at Ernst & Young during the busiest part of 2019. Historically, this time of year contributes to extensive accountant burnout and turnover. They wanted to see if, as a team, they could reduce the burnout and increase both retention and productivity.
Prior to the busy season the team created a “Resilience Plan” focused on how, as a group, they would all manage their energy.
They settled on five key behaviors they would all commit to, and help each other achieve.
Every two weeks, small groups of 6-7 would meet to check in. They’d explore what was working, what wasn’t, and what they needed to adjust to achieve the five key behaviors.
The results? This team reported feeling substantially less stressed than any year prior and their retention rate, 5 months later, stood at 97.5%.
Collectively, they not only battled burnout, they increased vitality throughout the team.
HOW CAN VETERINARY TEAMS PUT THIS TO GOOD USE?
Here’s a suggested road map:
Commit to action. This could be as simple as management/ownership sharing with the team your desire to help them feel more positively energized at work. Or, individual technicians or doctors or receptionists can recruit a few colleagues to participate.
Create Vitality Teams. Call the teams whatever you’d like, but gather a group of 3-7 people to be on a Vitality Team together. Be sure to assign a Champion to keep things on task, take notes, and help lead the charge.
Write a Vitality Plan. As a team, set aside at least 1 hour to come up with a list of 3-5 tangible energy management behaviors you will commit to. The goal is to build a list of behaviors you (a) know will help you manage (or boost) your energy at work, and, (b) you can and will commit to at or around your work in the hospital. For example, you may want to set a requirement that everyone gets a 5 minute break outside the building every 90 minutes. For your behavior you could assign break-buddies to cover for each other when the time comes. Or, perhaps, you’ll all agree to establishing an end-of-day “Transition” exercise to help you “leave work at work.” And don't forget to include some truly energizing activities like celebrating the success of a team member or cuddling with an adorable puppy!
Set Up Regular Check-Ins. Every 2 weeks, set aside an hour for your Vitality Team to meet and share what’s going well (celebrate!) and where you’re struggling (and need support). The goal is to help keep the key behaviors in the forefront, support each other in achieving them, and explore together ways to make the behaviors easier to accomplish. Or, if need be, change your list of key behaviors.
This exercise works best if it’s supported by management/ownership and happens throughout the hospital. But it doesn’t need that support to succeed. A few technicians coming together to do this on their own can be incredibly beneficial.
What will you and your Vitality Team’s key revitalizing behaviors be?