Setting Up a Workplace Wellness Program

For decades, studies have detailed that veterinarians are at risk for depression, psychological distress and burnout.  Many veterinarians show a progression from idealistic enthusiasm to a gradual loss of energy and commitment.  Fatigue, frustration, and mental anguish may lead to feelings of incompetence, helplessness, and hopelessness – and can shorten a career or lead to a toxic environment within your veterinary team. You, your associates and colleagues, and your entire veterinary team are at risk.

Start your clinic's wellness journey by setting up a workplace wellness program for your team. Positive emotions and responsive communication can reduce stress, compassion fatigue, and burnout.  You can implement changes both within your personal life and within your practice.  

Remember: Workplace wellness begins with personal wellness. If you can’t take care of your own health, you’ll find it difficult to care for your patients and support your team. Start by assessing your personal wellness, then review our resources to determine how you can develop a self-care program to improve your work-life balance, reduce compassion fatigue, and improve your physical health and financial health

Getting Started

Workplace wellness is good for employee health and retention, and may reduce the costs of insurance, sick time, and employee turnover. Employers who help staff cope with emotional trauma also help their practices.

Is Your Workplace Suffering from Compassion Fatigue?
Watch for these organizational symptoms of compassion fatigue.

Commit to developing and maintaining a culture of wellness in your practice. Your practice’s wellness program might be narrow or broad, depending on your resources and needs. You can start right away by implementing one or more of the ideas you find in this section, or by conducting an assessment of your current situation to focus your efforts where they are most needed. Create a supportive environment that encourages employees to make physical and mental wellness a priority, and also to talk about their feelings. Take a team approach to wellness. Invite your employees to talk jointly about what your staff members would most like to have included in your wellness program.

One starting point could be the CDC’s Worksite Health Scorecard, a tool designed to help assess the extent to which your workplace already has implemented evidence-based health promotion intervention. You also might ask employees to fill out an anonymous survey about workplaces stresses, such as this PDF questionnaire from the Health and Safety Executive (UK), or you could simply organize a voluntary staff meeting to discuss wellness needs and concerns, and let the group’s priorities guide you. 

When you put together a wellness program, don’t forget to consider all of the dimensions of wellness and self-care​, including: physical, psychological/emotional, spiritual, intellectual, financial, social, occupational, and family.

Wellness Basics

A few workplace practices stand out as basics for any wellness effort. If you’re not already doing these things as a practice owner, start here:

  • Create a healthy environment that encourages and allows employees to take regular breaks – preferably, breaks that get them outside for a change of scenery and fresh air. You might need to make scheduling changes to make this possible. It’s not enough to mandate breaks; there has to be enough time between appointments for your staff members to get more than just a restroom stop.
  • Encourage employees to talk with you and each other about traumas or difficulties they experienced during the day. Reward this sharing, and leverage your whole team to act as a support network to give colleagues advice and, when needed, emotional support.
  • Acknowledge good work, and show appreciation for your employees.
  • Lead by example. Don’t just mandate breaks; take walks around the building yourself. Bring in nutritious snacks for your staff, and tell them you’re focusing on keeping everyone healthy. Ask each employee to give you a short list of family-related dates – birthdays, anniversaries, etc. – that they would like you to schedule around if possible to allow them time with their loved ones. Share information about wellness with your staff – through email links and articles posted in staff areas of the office. Be proactive in making self-care an important topic for your employees.

State Veterinary Wellness Programs

The AVMA believes “that each state (should) organize, develop, and fund a Veterinary Wellness Program,” and we’ve created a Model Program for Wellness to assist in that process. This model, created by the AVMA Committee on Wellness in 2004, is intended for use as a template for state programs. In addition, our Guiding Principles for State Veterinary Wellness Programs can guide veterinary organizations in developing and implementing wellness programs. The guidelines include information about how wellness committees should be composed, what purposes they should serve, and what they should strive to ensure.

How AVMA Can Help

Countdown to Wellness – Five things you can do to create a wellness-centered veterinary workplace. (Developed by the AVMA Future Leaders class of 2015-2016)

Podcast: Wellness in the Workplace - Advice and tips from Dr. Ernie Ward to make your wellness program successful. (Developed by the AVMA Future Leaders class of 2014-2015)

AVMA Member Discussions: Work-Life Balance & Wellness

Organizational Symptoms of Compassion Fatigue

Additional Reading & Resources

Ignoring Compassion Fatigue Can Be Bad for Business

Video: Creating a Wellness Program (Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital, Portland, Ore.)

Video:Including Art Therapy in a Staff Wellness Program (Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital, Portland, Ore.)

Who in Your Practice Has Experienced Compassion Fatigue, Burnout or Depression?

Benefits of a Good Organization Culture

The Science of Happiness: Achieving Sustained Psychological Well-being (PDF)

Compassion Fatigue: What’s the Impact on Your Team?

10 Things Google Can Teach Veterinary Practices

Worksite Wellness Resources (Texas Department of State Health Services)

Preventing Compassion Fatigue

Give Your Working Moms Control Over Their Schedules

Managing Employees with Mental Ill Health

Is Your Office Culture Negatively Affecting Well-being?​​​​​

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