Managers should aim to be ‘good bosses’ - Veterinary Practice
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Managers should aim to be ‘good bosses’

reports on some of the sights and sounds of the London Vet Show

STRESS, depression, addiction and
even suicide: it is well known that
the veterinary profession has a
dismal record in preserving good
mental health among its members.

Usually it is because the veterinarian
concerned is unable to cope with the
pressures of practice life – but how
often is the problem actually caused by
the fact that the boss is not very good
at his or her job?

The importance of a boss’s role in
maintaining a happy and
productive veterinary
workplace was discussed at a London Vet Show session
organised by the Veterinary
Benevolent Fund.

Speakers looked at the factors that
determined whether senior staff are
seen as good or bad bosses and
attempted to find ways that a poor
manager can be made to examine their
own performance and seek to improve
their skills.

Industry veterinarian David Bartram
was awarded an RCVS fellowship for
his research into the mental health and
well-being of the veterinary profession.
He said there is evidence that a
disturbingly high proportion of the
Royal College’s membership experience periods of depression in which they
can have suicidal thoughts.

In more than 60% of cases these
problems were work-related, such as
the effects of long hours of high
pressure duties on their personal lives
or due to a feeling of being
undervalued within the practice, he said.

Newly qualified veterinarians who
were lacking in confidence in their
professional skills were particularly in
need of good support from their bosses, but often it is not given.
Mr Bartram referred to research
showing that 57% of new graduates received no formal appraisals of their
performance during their first year in
the job and only about one third of
those who did receive appraisals had
them focus on the new graduate’s
progress through the PDP (professional
development phase).

Mr Bartram highlighted the
characteristics of a good boss, which
include fairness, consistency,
approachability and good communication skills.

There are strong legal and ethical reasons
why every manager
should aim to be seen
by his or her staff as a
good boss. But there are
also good business
reasons for wanting that
reputation: staff
working in a happy
workplace are more
productive, easier to
recruit and retain, plus
there is a close correlation between staff
engagement and client satisfaction, he

To some extent, however, good
bosses will be defying their evolutionary
inheritance if they show empathy with
their staff. Animal behaviour research
and human psychological studies show
that giving an individual status makes it
highly likely that they will behave “like
an insensitive jerk”, he warned.

But the biggest hazard in the work
environment or at home is for someone
to pretend to be taking notice of their
colleague, friend of family member
when they are not.

“You should never act as though
you are listening when you aren’t.
Faking it is even worse than not
listening at all,” he said.

Deal with ‘bad apples’

But being a good boss is not all about
being kind to colleagues. One of the
most important tasks of an effective
boss is to identify and deal with the
“bad apples” that can ruin the
atmosphere in a workplace.

He pointed out that negative
interactions with a colleague have a
much more powerful and lasting effect
on an individual’s mood than any
positive event. Also, if one person in a
working group is behaving in a
disruptive fashion, then it can reduce
the productivity of the whole group
by up to 40%, he said.

The problem for bosses is that
they are the last people to know when
they are performing well in that role.
“It is always the most deeply
incompetent among us who have the
most inflated assessment of their own
value.” So Mr Bartram advocated the
use of 360 degree appraisals in
helping all staff members to
understand their

The meeting featured
an interactive session
where audience members
were required to analyse
the events in drama about
a young veterinarian
becoming disillusioned
with her job. The play showed the effects of
her receiving
inadequate support
from her boss who
was so distracted by
his own role to
provide the help
promised at her

There was also a
panel discussion
featuring veterinarians
with an interest in
workplace psychology.

They repeatedly emphasised the
crucial importance of the recruitment
process in ensuring that any new
graduate would be right for the
practice – and vice versa.

Guilty of mistakes

Carole Clarke, who is principal of Mill
House Veterinary Hospital in King’s
Lynn, the only practice to have twice
won the national practice of the year
award, recognised that she has often
been guilty of the same mistakes in
handling staff relationships shown by
the fictional character.

Erwin Hohn, head of training with
the Medivet Group, emphasised the
importance for a boss of knowing
where and when to praise their staff
for a job well done. A good boss must
also be quick to identify unsatisfactory
behaviour and seek to correct it
before there are any serious
consequences, he said.

Mr Bartram believed that many of
the problems with bad bosses in the
veterinary world were because senior
clinicians tried to carry out managerial
duties in their spare time. Being a boss
is an important and time-consuming
job and it is vital that those taking on
the role allocate the time to do it

But how does someone learn to
become a good boss? Carole Clarke
believed there were no real secrets.
Time was important and after taking
responsibility for managing her
practice she no longer carries out any
routine clinical duties.

Beyond that, it is a question of
reading everything that can be found
that is relevant to the managerial role
and taking out membership of
relevant organisations that do provide
training, such as the VPMA.

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