Last year research by psychologists at the University of Aberdeen revealed that rude pet owners and uncivil co-workers were contributing to veterinary staff reconsidering their careers.
Their work, published in Veterinary Record, found that rudeness from both clients and co-workers was linked to increased levels of anxiety and depression, reduced job satisfaction and increased quitting intention, alongside a greater risk of burnout.
Now the authors of the research, from the University’s School of Psychology, have teamed up with veterinary professionals to produce a free toolkit to help raise awareness of the adverse impacts associated with incivility, and support staff to mitigate and manage the impacts of uncivil behaviour.
Resources outline types of incivility, impacts and potential responses and feature a range of explainer videos featuring veterinary experts discussing their incivility experiences. There are also a range of worksheets and guided activities.
Lead author Dr Amy Irwin, from the University of Aberdeen, explains: “People who work in service industries, such as the veterinary profession, are more at risk of experiencing rude behaviour due to their need to work with a range of staff and customers. Negative interactions, such as a client ignoring the veterinarian, or a co-worker making demeaning comments, are a major source of stress within service roles – and are a particular concern within the veterinary profession where there is already a high level of stress, concerns about well-being and suicidal ideation.
“Our research, via interviews and a questionnaire study, revealed the impact of incivility, a low-level but more regular adverse behaviour towards veterinary staff, highlighting that experiencing uncivil behaviours regularly could lead to dissatisfaction with their career, withdrawal from clients and even prompt a career change – a very worrying result given concerns about a current veterinary staff shortage in the UK.
“Part of the issue is that veterinary staff are not always sure how they should respond to incivility, which unlike more extreme behaviours such as aggression, does not always feature in guidelines for managing conflict within veterinary practices.”
Dr Irwin said that the research identified the need to create tools and pathways to help staff identify, assess, and mitigate these challenges.
“It is one thing to say ‘these are the issues’ but knowing that there is a problem doesn’t help us to tackle it,” she added.
“Of course there should be a zero tolerance approach of aggression towards veterinary staff but, what our research highlighted, is that this is harder to manage when it comes to the more minor, but nonetheless negative, behaviours or interactions. Incivility is frequent, subtle and can be ambiguous in terms of intent to harm so is more often ignored at organisational level.
“We have been delighted to work with Helen Silver-MacMahon (Being Human Consulting Ltd.), Dr Luiz Santos (University of Glasgow) and Prof Liz Mossop (University of Lincolnshire) to both conduct the research and start developing resources to support staff – and to make these available free of charge.”
The toolkit, available at https://research.abdn.ac.uk/applied-psych-hf/vit/ is designed to help veterinary staff to identify the types of incivility that may impact them negatively, provides a range of reflective tools, including scenarios, to help discussion and action around this issue and resources to help identify and implement measures to improve staff well-being.