Recognizing and Addressing Staff Burnout from COVID-19

Compassion fatigue is a very real problem in the veterinary industry, leading to mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. For many practices, the recent COVID-19 health crisis has only served to compound this issue. Now, more than ever, it’s critical that practice owners and practice managers are able to recognize the signs of burnout so they can take appropriate action to address the issue early, before it has a chance to worsen. If you could use a little guidance in this area, here’s what we recommend.

Be vigilant and know what to look for.

Burnout can lead to a variety of other issues, some of which are extremely concerning. From a practice management perspective, you could be facing dips in morale, increased absenteeism and possibly even costly turnover. All of this can impact the client experience in a negative way, ultimately trickling down to your bottom line. From a humanity standpoint, compassion fatigue and burnout can lead to increased susceptibility to illness, depression and, in severe cases, even suicide.  

Without question, you care about your team. This is why it’s so important that you understand and know how to recognize the signs of possible burnout as early as possible. If you struggle with this, try to think about it in terms of recognizing the signs of disease in your patients. We know that the timelier the diagnosis and treatment, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome. This really isn’t that much different. 

So, what are these telltale signs to watch for? There’s no exact blueprint for burnout, but here are a few common red flags:

  • Decreased motivation and/or increased disinterest in work
  • Resentment toward clients, patients or other team members
  • Unusual mood changes (sadness, apathy, anxiety, short temper, etc.)

Familiarizing yourself with these signs will provide you with the opportunity to intercede before the employee reaches rock bottom. It’s particularly important to be vigilant right now, when stress levels are even higher than normal thanks to the pandemic. 

Know what you can do to help.

Once you’ve identified signs of burnout in one of your team members, it’s time to step in and offer to help in any way possible. This can be easier said than done, however, because of the sensitive nature of the situation. If you feel close enough to approach the employee directly, do so. If you’re unsure or worried that your concern may not be well-received, enlist the help of a trusted colleague. Often times just offering to lend an ear and allowing the person to vent can make a difference.

In addition to providing help, either from yourself or another team member, the employee in question should also be directed to other resources that are available to help them better manage stress and handle their emotional burden. Organizations like MightyVet and Not One More Vet, for instance, are dedicated specifically to this cause. If you don’t already, you should also make sure your benefits package includes adequate coverage for mental and emotional support needs as well.

As challenging as it may be, you should also be routinely encouraging your team to take much-needed time off. Remember – you can’t pour from an empty cup, so allow your employees to regularly recharge and tend to their mental and emotional wellbeing. At the end of the day, this is what matters most.

Now, perhaps more than ever before, it’s absolutely critical that veterinary team members support each other. Scheduling regular one-on-ones can help you keep closer tabs on how your employees are faring, especially during these trying times. And, as always, you should continue to watch closely for signs of compassion fatigue. Above all, remind your team that you will get through this together.

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