How to prioritize, adapt workplace mental health strategies

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Assessing how a veterinary clinic is performing financially is important for ensuring a profitable, well-run business. But what about assessing something arguably as important—the mental health culture among staff at a practice?

Doing so can not only reduce the likelihood of workplace problems but also increase staff satisfaction, says Dr. Jenny Weston, associate dean of veterinary sciences at Massey University in New Zealand. She gave the talk “Developing a Plan to Prevent Mental Health Problems in the Veterinary Workplace” during the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges’ Veterinary Wellness and Social Work Summit, Nov. 2-3, 2015, in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Dr. Weston formerly worked at a rural veterinary clinic and, two years ago, attended a workshop where employees from a range of veterinary businesses created an assessment protocol that included adopting and prioritizing general workplace mental health strategies.

She outlined the following process:

  • Identify factors contributing to poor mental health outcomes among staff.
  • Consider each contributing factor in terms of impact and prevalence and whether its impact is increasing or decreasing, then decide on the overall importance of each factor.
  • Identify the top five to 10 factors, then brainstorm actions, policies, or procedures that could reduce their impact and prioritize areas to implement.
  • Develop action plans attached to a timeline, then put them into place. 

Examples of factors that contribute to mental health problems in the workplace that Dr. Weston and her colleagues compiled were client and staff expectations, low salaries, lack of support, heavy workload or poor work-life balance, and poor leadership or business management.

Areas for action they developed involved creating the after-hours roster in a more transparent manner, allowing for a better balance of job demands by providing employees more job control, creating opportunities for development of management and leadership skills, more effectively handling staff performance issues, appropriately rewarding employees’ efforts, and introducing mental health education and policies into the practice.

“It’s important that those affected are involved in developing strategies to prevent mental health problems in the workplace and take responsibility for the strategy,” Dr. Weston said.