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  • Writer's pictureJosh Vaisman

It’s Time Vet Med Gets Loud About “Quiet Quitting”

By now I’m sure most of you have heard the phrase, “Quiet Quitting”. If you aren’t familiar, it describes an employee's intentional decision to refrain from going “above and beyond” what is expected of them at work. Essentially, they decide to do precisely what their job description demands of them, and nothing more.

It’s called Quiet Quitting because they tend to keep this decision to themselves. Rather than announce it loudly to their colleagues and bosses, they simply start clocking out right at shift’s end, coming in on time instead of early, and when away from work they ignore work emails and texts.

If we think of this in transactional terms, it’s like a client coming in to pick up a box of heartworm prevention that costs $69…and paying precisely $69.

Which is why it’s so interesting to me to see some of the uproar from leaders offended by the concept. It’s as if they are upset that employees are only doing “exactly what we tell them to do.”

When work is made to be transactional, we get employees who treat it like a transaction. No one comes to our practice intending to pay $79 for heartworm prevention that costs $69.

But that’s what so many veterinary employers seem to expect. They seem to be upset that veterinary professionals put in only $69 effort for $69 work.

Here’s the crux of it all. People don’t want work to feel transactional. We want work to offer more than just a paycheck.

We spend so much time in and around work. In a veterinary career, well over 30% of our adult life will be spent in the service of veterinary medicine. People want this time to transcend transaction and be a part of a fulfilled life, well lived.

We want, and deserve, work that contributes to our wellbeing. And veterinary work absolutely can.

Leadership That Transcends Transactional

Let’s explore two Flourish Veterinary Consulting clients.

These two hospitals are similar in that they each have around 100 employees and are both privately owned. Both practice exceptional medicine and strive to offer the highest level of service to their community. Both are led by good people with good intentions, doing the best they can each and every day.

One has an engaged workplace where team members frequently go “above and beyond” their role expectations. The other seems to have struggled with Quiet Quitting (and overt quitting as evidenced by their turnover rate).

I think the difference comes down to leadership.

In the summer of 2022, Flourish conducted a study we called our “Veterinary Workplace Leadership Culture Study”. This study survey was open to all roles in veterinary medicine. If folks worked for someone (that is, they had a boss or manager they reported to), we wanted to hear from them.

As of the writing of this blog, almost 600 veterinarians, technicians, client care representatives, technician assistants, managers, and the like responded. This included professionals from small-animal, mixed-animal, and large-animal as well as general practice, emergency, and specialized care.

We had 3 primary goals with this study:

  1. Measure veterinary professionals’ experiences with leadership. That is, how did their leaders’ behaviors impact them?

  2. Measure veterinary professionals’ sense of workplace wellbeing. How are veterinary professionals feeling about their jobs these days?

  3. Compare the two to see if there exists a relationship. Can our experience with leadership predict veterinary workplace wellbeing?

Our preliminary analysis suggests that how veterinary leaders lead may be strongly predictive of how team members feel – and behave – at work.

People Who Matter Do Things That Matter

Zach Mercurio, PhD recently argued there are two essential elements to workplace leadership:

  1. Nothing will matter to a person who feels like they don’t matter.

  2. People care about their work only when they feel cared for.

The results of our study seem to support his assertion.

We’ve developed an evidence-based framework for leadership in veterinary medicine called The 4 P’s of Positive Leadership. Research suggests that team members who feel safe, needed, empowered, and connected are likely to feel better in and through their work, and perform to their full potential.

Our survey first sought to measure people’s experiences with the 4 P’s in their current workplace. To that end, we asked 16 questions divided into 4 sections to attain scores in each of the 4 pillars (Psychological Safety, Purpose, Path, and Partnership). Participants rated their agreement with statements like, “My leader routinely shows appreciation for the contributions I make at work,” on a 7-point Likert scale.

We also asked participants to share their current sense of workplace wellbeing and satisfaction across a variety of frequently used metrics. One section measured organizational commitment. Just like it sounds, organizational commitment is a well-researched measure of a team member’s sense of engagement and dedication to their job and workplace.

We found that the type of leadership veterinary team members experience is highly predictive of how committed they are to the hospital (or other workplace) they are employed by. In other words, leaders have a great deal of influence over how committed team members feel to their work.

For example, one item on the organizational commitment scale is: “This hospital deserves my loyalty.”

Participants could respond on a 7-point scale where 1 is, “strongly disagree” and 7 is, “strongly agree”.

Participants who rated the positive leadership practices at their hospital higher were significantly more likely to agree that their hospital deserves their loyalty (r = 0.60, p<0.01).

They were also more likely to be happy with their current job (r = 0.67, p<0.01). This is important because research suggests a considerate relationship between job satisfaction and work performance.

Quiet Quitting: the Opportunity

The lesson for me is that this is all an opportunity.

Veterinary medicine consistently attracts talented, intelligent, driven, kind, compassionate people who strive to make a positive difference in the world. If we give those fertile resources a nutrient-rich garden to grow in, they will flourish and realize their full potential.

If you’re in a leadership position of any kind (CEO, hospital owner, practice manager, supervisor, lead, or even the seasoned technician all the other techs turn to), you have been gifted a unique opportunity. You can add fertilizer to your team’s daily experience and help them thrive.

If you embrace the practices of positive leadership your team is likely to feel better, do better, and stay employed in your hospital longer.

Our data is a strong indicator of the positive influence you have. Based on what we found in our study, here are 3 suggestions to get you started on your positive leadership development journey:

  1. Voice: Among the strongest predictors of team member engagement is the belief that their opinion matters to leadership. Work on gathering their perspective. An incredibly simple way to do that is building the habit of asking the question, “What do you think?”

  2. Impact: People who feel they are doing good work that matters (it makes a difference) seem to be more satisfied and energized in their job. As a positive leader, look for the good they are doing every day and show them. Bonus points if you can tie their impact to the greater goals of the hospital.

  3. Development: All of us take joy in a sense of progress and accomplishment. We found that when team members agree with statements like, “My leader cares about my professional success”, they tend to be happier and more engaged in their work. Positive leaders don’t just share the goals of the organization, they help team members identify personal goals that align. Then they help them achieve those goals.

Simply put, we get from our teams what we offer them. If we offer the minimal incentives (e.g., a paycheck and “leaving them alone”) we will see Quiet Quitting continue to grow.

If we want the best from the people we lead, we must provide them the best environment to meet their normal human needs. Build the garden, add the nutrients, and I promise you, magical things will grow.

And so will you.

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