Do You Love Your Job?

WA Veterinarian Magazine

by Richard M. DeBowes, DVM, MS, DACVS & Caitlin Antes

Mar/Apr 2015

First, do me a favor and think back to the best job you’ve ever had. A job where you felt respected and appreciated as an integral part of a powerful team. A job that was more than a job; where you would happily go above and beyond the call of duty to help your patients, your clients, or your team.

If you have ever felt like this at work, then you know how it feels to be fully engaged. Engaged employees enjoy higher job satisfaction and lower risk of burnout, but are also responsible for most of what goes right in a workplace! Engaged teams achieve higher client satisfaction and higher quality patient care, while being relatively immune to the negative effects of higher workload. On the business side, engagement has been shown to reduce turnover 25%-65%, as well as significantly boosting performance and innovation, increasing customer ratings and loyalty, and decreasing absenteeism and theft.

In summary, the same factors of engagement that help keep people happy in their jobs are also the major drivers of high quality patient care, client satisfaction, and business success. Whatever your role, whatever your motive, increasing engagement in the workplace is good for everyone.

Luckily, business executives across the world have already poured millions of dollars into researching the factors that facilitate individual engagement. Here’s what they found:

  • Basic Needs: To be fully engaged in our careers, we first need our supervisors to set clear expectations and provide adequate resources. There’s nothing more frustrating than failing to satisfy vague or inconsistent expectations, except perhaps to fail because you were not given the time, knowledge, equipment, or support to do your job right.
  • Support from Management: Few people are strong enough to maintain the momentum of engagement when bosses let them feel insignificant and unappreciated. When supervisors care about us and value our opinions, when they recognize our efforts and leverage our strengths, we know that our investment is not misplaced.
  • Connection to Team and Organization: A career starts to feel like a calling when we find a team who shares our values; a place where people treat each other with respect and work together towards a shared vision or a greater purpose.
  • Opportunities for Growth: Even when the first three needs are satisfied, stagnation can be the death of a great team. Great people crave continuing education, opportunities for growth, and the challenge of new roles and responsibilities.

Great managers influence engagement by writing clear protocols, taking care of their team, leading team meetings in a way that supports a collaborative and respectful work environment, leveraging strengths, and providing opportunities for growth. If you are a practice owner or manager, a wealth of information is available on strategies you can implement to provide for your team and increase engagement within your hospital.

Regardless of your title or position, here are 6 simple things you can do TODAY to lead by example and foster a more engaging workplace.


Treat each other with respect.

  • Ask your teammates at all levels what you can do to make their jobs easier. Simple things like cleaning up your workstation and finalizing charges not only improve efficiency, but your thoughtful acts can do wonders for team morale.
  • Remember that respectful, clear, problem-solving communication is a powerful tool for preventing both interpersonal conflicts and medical errors. Specifically, your ultimate goals in communication with teammates should be to more fully understand and improve the situation, rather than assigning blame or gaining a perceived advantage
  • Try to occasionally spend time in other roles and other parts of the hospital, to better understand their challenges and responsibilities. When you know what the other side is dealing with, you will be more empathetic to their situation, decreasing misunderstanding and conflict.


Remember your shared mission, and celebrate success.

  • Reframe clinic goals and accomplishments in terms of their impact on pets and clients. “Last week, we helped 72 cats and dogs live longer and happier lives by ensuring they receive the best preventative care” is much more inspiring than “Last week we sold 72 wellness plans.”
  • Encourage people to share success stories with the whole team. Consider setting aside time at the beginning of your weekly meetings for shout outs and collective recognition of the many great things that others have done for their teammates and their clients.


Recognize people for their efforts.

  • Challenge yourself to find at least three things a day that you are impressed by or grateful for and pass those happy thoughts along. Especially on days when everyone is exhausted, sharing genuine appreciation for each others’ hard work will inject positive energy and motivation into your team.
  • Rather than a generic “thanks for all your help,” try to specifically address the act or attribute you appreciate. “Mary, your compassion for Ms. Williams and Trixie yesterday was wonderful and particularly courageous given her high level of anxiety and fear regarding Trixie’s well-being…THANK YOU!”   The more specific and genuine you are, the more powerful your words will be.
  • Remember that there are many ways to express appreciation. Some people value words of affirmation or quality time together as the most genuine forms of appreciation. Others value acts of service or small gifts more highly as the proof behind the words.  Asking people their preferences enables you to acknowledge them in a meaningful way.  Alternatively, you could experiment with a variety of kind acts like giving shout outs at team meetings, writing personal notes, giving gifts, buying lunch, or finishing an unpleasant task for someone.  Take time to acknowledge your teammates in a way that matters most to them!

“Engagement has been shown to reduce turnover 25%-25%.”


Work with your roles healthcare team to clarify and expectations.

  • Ask your practice manager to clarify the duties and expectations of your position on a daily, weekly, and long-term basis. You’re much more likely to be successful when you understand exactly what they are looking for.
  • Collaborate with others to write clear protocols for common hospital procedures like admitting patients or making wellness recommendations. Clarifying standard procedures and individual responsibilities (rather than requiring everyone to change how they work to accommodate the preferences of any particular doctor) will reduce frustration and conflict while streamlining workflow and increasing quality and consistency of care.

If you are in a position to delegate tasks, take the time to make sure your teammates understand exactly what you need, when you need it, and how big of a priority it is. When your colleagues know the ‘why’ behind your request, they will appreciate the importance of doing the ‘what’ you need done and the ‘how’ you need it with a high level of skill and care.


Find ways to apply your strengths.

  • First, you need to understand your strengths. Make a list of broad strengths like “relating to clients” or “catching the details,” as well as specific skills like “drawing blood” or “educating clients about preventative care.” Consider soliciting feedback from your team for additional perspective.
  • Next, make a list of specific tasks and responsibilities that allow you to utilize those strengths at work. How well does the list fit your current role? Research shows that the more hours a day a person is able to use their strengths, the more likely they are to report feeling respected by their team, being interested in their work, and feeling happy, energetic, and well rested.
  • Talk with your practice manager or team leader about ways to better leverage your strengths, like shifting your role within the clinic or taking on new exciting responsibilities. All practices want well-rounded staff, but someone who can channel their natural strengths into their primary role (e.g. an extroverted receptionist, a detail-oriented kennel tech) will be able to use much less energy while performing at a much higher level than someone with a less-suited personality type.


Take charge of your personnel department.

  • Ask for specific, constructive feedback that will allow you to see how you and your work are perceived by your coworkers.
  • Set specific, measurable, achievable goals for yourself, commit to a timeline, and follow up regularly.
  • Consider finding a mentor or accountability partner to give you honest feedback and identify areas for improvement.
  • Actively seek out continuing education that challenges and interests you. If you find an amazing opportunity and are willing to put together a business proposal, you may be surprised how much your practice owner is willing to invest. A basic proposal asks for a specific budget, details how that budget would be used, and explains how you plan to use the skills and knowledge you will gain to grow the practice.

Whether you are at the top of your practice leadership or on your own and leading by example, know that you have the power to create positive change in your environment. It won’t happen overnight; these ideas are simple but changing behavior and attitudes is often more challenging. It will take focused discussion, considerable effort, commitment and persistence to change a culture but it can be done and the results are absolutely worth it.

So what are you waiting for? Do it for your patients; do it for your team; do it for your clients and your business, and if you ever start feeling discouraged, remember to do it for yourself.

Richard M. DeBowes / Caitlin Antes

Richard M. DeBowes, DVM, MS, DACVS is the Director of Professional Life Skills in the Clinical Communication Program  for Washington State University. He can be reached at [email protected].

Caitlin Antes is a fourth-year veterinary student at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine. She graduates in May, 2015. She can be reached at [email protected].


  1. Harter J, Schmidt F, Agrawal S, et al. The relationship between engagement at work and organizational outcomes: 2012 Q12 meta-analysis. Gallup Press 2013. Available at: <> Accessed Oct 6, 2014.
  2. Mohr DC, Benzer JK,  Young GJ. Provider workload and quality of care in primary care settings: Moderating role of relational climate. Medical Care 2013; 51:108-114.
  3. State of the American Workplace: Employee engagement insights for US business leaders. Gallup Press; 2013. Available at: Accessed Sept 28, 2014.
  1. Chapman G, White B. The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People. Northfield Publishing 2012.
  2. Tumblin D. Team Building. Veterinary Economics 2006. Available at: Accessed Oct 3 2014.