Even for experienced staff, working at a veterinary ER can be hectic, heartbreaking, and overwhelming. For brand new employees, adapting to the pace can be rough. Unfortunately, I’ve seen new hires get overwhelmed by the work load and leave after only a few days. There’s nothing worse than investing time and energy to hire and train someone with lots of potential, only to see them disappear months down the road, or worse, before training even ends. How do we prevent this burnout? Most importantly, how can we support our new hires so that they grow into adept, long term team players?
Part of the problem, I think, stems from the misperception that it is a new employee’s fault that they aren’t yet prepared to do their job. The catch-22 of course, is that they won’t learn how to do the work until someone teaches them. I know it’s easier said than done. It’s necessary to have high expectations when our work is so critical and time sensitive. We set the bar high, because we depend on each other’s skills to complete our own work. Still, we were all new kids at some point. We all remember how tough it was. It would do us credit to keep this in mind, and lend a hand to the people going through it rather than hold it against them.
When I was first hired as a CSR at DoveLewis, I was completely new to the field. My veterinary expertise was limited to keeping up with my dog’s vaccines. While working at the front desk doesn’t require formal medical knowledge, any receptionist or CSR in this field knows that it isn’t possible to do the job unless you can engage in a basic triage process or immediately recognize a pet in crisis. It isn’t possible to be good at your job until you can do that with confidence, empathy, and a strong working knowledge of your hospital’s policies. Learning these skills, along with the million other little things you need to learn about the hospital or clinic you work for, can seem insurmountable at first.
These days I often help train new CSR’s, and while every trainee is different, the one thing they all seem to comment on is the lightning quick pace here. I remember my training period vividly, and how overwhelming it was to be “on the floor” at first. If it’s busy, (and let’s face it, we’re always busy) it’s easy to feel like you’re stumbling around in everyone’s way with a blindfold on and a sign around your neck proclaiming your novice status. It’s embarrassing and intimidating to interrupt people who are hard at work to ask basic questions. Additionally, for the uninitiated, the atmosphere at an emergency hospital is something of a culture shock. The short tempers and volatile emotions that we deal with on a daily basis aren’t exactly normal. These interactions can easily be interpreted by the newcomer as, “that person hates me because I don’t know what I’m doing!”
Because there’s so much information to absorb during the training period, even the most stellar new hires will have gaps in their knowledge base after training officially ends. Of course, it seems like these gaps are usually exposed at the most inopportune moments, causing miscommunication and/or making clients unhappy. It’s easy to see how coworkers might get frustrated or angry when situations like this occur, especially when fixing the problem creates more work. At worst, I’ve observed new hires get ignored, ostracized, and excluded from basic social interactions for lacking the knowledge they need to be competent at their job.
It’s hard to see a new hire with potential decide that our hospital isn’t a good fit because they’re traumatized by their learning experience. Every workplace would benefit if we took a proactive, positive approach to the integration of new staff. First and foremost, our goal must be to promote empathy, compassion, and sincere kindness amongst ourselves. This applies to everyone, but new hires in particular. Reach out to someone you don’t know – let them know you’re there for them if they’re feeling overwhelmed. Think about how easy it is to treat all of the animals that walk in the door with kindness and compassion, and to treat our clients with empathy. Do our colleagues deserve anything less? We must remind ourselves that every interaction we have with our coworkers is a choice. We have a choice to build a team that is united, loyal and inclusive. Each of us, with the words we speak and the actions we take, contributes volumes to the emotional environment on any given day. This is such a tough industry. Tragedy and heartbreak and drama are already the status quo around here. Let’s do what we can to lift each other up and have each other’s backs.
Finally, I propose that we look at training as a lifestyle – in other words, every day we come to work we should seek out opportunities to learn and to share knowledge with each other, even if we’ve been here for years. Learning should be collaborative, and it should happen all the time. Whenever I have a task come up at work that doesn’t occur very often, I ask our newer team members on the floor if they’ve ever seen that thing happen before. If they haven’t, I have them observe and/or take the reins. It doesn’t have to stop there. Half the time when some weird situation comes up, even the most senior team members end up bouncing ideas and questions off of each other. Everyone has a different perspective, and seasoned employees have a wealth of experience and knowledge at their fingertips – how much better off would everyone be if we all decided to share that knowledge with newer staff freely and often, and to encourage new hires to actively participate at every opportunity?
Ultimately, each of us needs to decide to do what we can to create a positive, pleasant environment at work. We imperfect human creatures have the occasional tendency to fall for the “Us vs. Them” paradigm, putting up walls and making others feel unwelcome for things that are, in the long run, insignificant. Maybe it’s easier to figure out where we fit into the world when we can rank ourselves above others, but it doesn’t make for a very healthy environment to work in. Don’t lose perspective – we’re all in this ship together. Remember that the person making those annoying mistakes is probably trying their hardest to impress you. Remember that you were the new kid too, once upon a time. It’s a rough gig. But with a little help, they’ll get it.