Is Your Practice Rife with Office Politics?

5 min read

Male vets are hard to come by — get a good-looking one in the clinic, everyone is more than happy to help him! But when it’s just the rest…” Leah Paskel, RVN begins the discussion on office politics.

Who would have thought that a high-octane work environment like a veterinary practice can be rigged with human office politics? Apparently, disputes and tensions at the practice do not usually stem out of professional reasons but personality clashes. Toxic and dysfunctional work culture can be super intensified if the management decides to turn a blind eye.

Free Download: Veterinary Employee Happiness Survey Template

In this article, our very own Leah Paskell, Victoria Smith and Edel Burke who have all been nurse-turned-managers reflect on this topic and offer insights.

Who took my pen?”, a question like this one can foreshadow an imminent display of authority. Popular pre-texts can also include dirty dishes and gossip; if you hear someone say that someone else might have done something, a piece of rumour ensues and you are now in a game!

Is there even time for this? The answer is no but people can still prioritise office politics above other tasks. “We don’t have enough time to do all the things we want to do, so when tasks like doing dishes get deprioritised and someone else gets to them first, the internal questions start like ‘why should I do it when she hasn’t?’”, Leah remembers when she had to mitigate a staff crisis involving 6 unwashed cups.

So, why do it? The simple answer is, hierarchy and progression whether it is effective or not. Humans have always lived in the context of meeting each other to interact and seek advantages. So by definition, office politics should serve those who are equipped with the necessary people skills to build their tribal network. However, it is largely detested and loathed upon.

“It is usually juvenile. It occurs when there’s poor communication, high levels of stress and a need to assert power. A simple exchange between staff members when someone is being trained can be used as a source for gossip that someone is extremely patronising.” said Victoria Smith, RVN who like Leah, left the veterinary profession to work as a consultant at Vetstoria.

“Office politics was the no.1 reason why I became a locum back in the day. That meant I got to make more money and only work nights — so I wouldn’t have to be around that many people.” says Edel Burke RVN, our Australia-Asian manager.

“The dynamic between doctors and nurses has always been tricky even in human medicine. At some practices, the nurses are also pulled to roles they feel over qualified and trained for such as receptionist tasks. Most managers are reluctant to employ and pay for more receptionist to deal with the overwhelming workload front of house so the nurses are really stretched. You can see how this could create discontent which is often a precursor for trouble.”

Does the management play a role in perpetuating office politics?

“Office politics can be a by-product of not being heard,” says Victoria. The repeated conflicts can be so immature that the management decides to not get involved simply because they are “fed up”. What’s interesting and industry-specific about veterinary practices is that many managers do not come from a business management background — many progressed into the role from nursing or having been the receptionist for a long time who on occasion fail to recognize the need for change.

“The veterinary industry has always been behind in every sense — operational and practical. We are an evidence based profession and no evidence means it’s a bad idea. The problem is, we need to do things to gather the evidence so if the management does not recognize the need for change and take action, there won’t be any evidence to work with. Don’t you see how bad of a vicious circle this is to break?” says Leah.

So what can be done?

“Through the tiredness, it’s easy to jump on board the ‘blame train” rather than seeing the bigger picture. More understanding and education of everybody’s roles is necessary.” says Leah.

Office politics is a reality that we face in every profession, and avoiding it altogether risks not generating influence for a democratic, healthy feedback loop within the company structure. However, good politics can be achieved so you can get what you want without harming others.

Hubspot’s put together a brilliant article “The Drama-Hater’s Guide to Deal with Office Politics” which can be roughly summarized to the below points:

  • Make decisions transparently and consistently.
  • Don’t be exclusive with your professional relationships.
  • Identify the sources of office politics and stay away as much as you can.
  • If all else fails, just be direct.

As a bonus, We’ve compiled a list of recognizable tropes within the practice. Which one describes you best?

“Of all deceivers fear most yourself!” — Søren Kierkegaard

  • The Office Bully — tantrums throwers who yell and insult
  • The Backstabber — nice to your face but attack your effort covertly to manipulate
  • The Queen Bee — the indispensable one who thwart the growth of others
  • The Gossip Monger — really good at adopting a “confidential” tone
  • The Habitual Complainer — tend to focus on things over which they have no influence

Office politics will never go away and if you are the type who’d strive to make positive changes to your work environment, we believe that changes should come from within. Seek out technological solutions which may alleviate stress and streamline the workflow of the practice, which consequently reduces frictions among staff. If you are interested to learn what Vetstoria has done for our thousands of clients around the world in making their staff’s everyday life much easier, head to our website for more information.