“It totally affects your day because you start to question, ‘Was it me? Was it something I did? Is it my professionalism?’” – this is how one vet describes the impact of client rudeness (Irwin et al., 2021).
Rudeness, or incivility, is a form of workplace mistreatment that is considered insidious and impactful for veterinary staff. Uncivil behaviours may take the form of a passive lack of respect (eg looking at a phone while someone is speaking or not responding to questions) or more active disrespect – such as unpleasant comments and inappropriate humour – and can be shown by clients, co-workers and senior staff (Irwin et al., 2022).
Veterinary research indicates that experiencing rudeness at work can lead to a range of adverse consequences for staff, including reduced job satisfaction, reduced well-being, increased anxiety and an increased risk of exiting the profession (Irwin et al., 2022). However, despite the negative connotations, rudeness, unlike other forms of workplace mistreatment such as bullying and harassment, is not typically included in guidance for managing adverse behaviours at work.
Veterinary research indicates that experiencing rudeness at work can lead to […] reduced job satisfaction, reduced well-being, increased anxiety and an increased risk of exiting the profession
Combined with the potential ambiguity of uncivil behaviours – for example, whether a person ignored you on purpose or simply did not hear/notice you – it can be difficult for staff to know what constitutes rudeness and how to respond.
Managing incivility in veterinary practice
Our most frequently asked question is how veterinary staff should respond to incivility in the first instance. Although there is still more to learn about how best to manage rudeness – and it is important to note that these approaches are best used within a supportive practice culture – our research participants have shared examples of what works for them when faced with uncivil behaviours at work:
- Problem-solving –highlight a common or shared goal with the individual who is behaving uncivilly (eg treating a patient) and foster a sense of camaraderie. Engage in active listening to try to determine the cause of the uncivil behaviour, share your own perspective and encourage the person to work with you to achieve your shared goal
- Strategic defence –when you are aware that a specific client or co-worker has the capacity to be rude, you can pre-plan interactions to try to avoid uncivil behaviour arising and/or ensure you have support readily available. This might encompass preparing alternative forms of communication that you can pass over if face-to-face information sharing becomes problematic or could mean taking a second member of staff into a consult appointment
- Reflection on practice –a key mechanism for managing the aftermath of an uncivil interaction is to discuss the incident with friends and colleagues. This has the advantage of enabling you to discuss your own experience while gathering insights from other staff experiences. You can then view the incident with the benefit of time and distance to determine if there is anything to be learned from the interaction
- Practical support –building on the strategic defence suggested above, many veterinary staff indicated that there are several practical forms of support that can be offered by colleagues during, and following, an uncivil incident, including:
- taking over a consult appointment on request
- enabling the impacted staff member to take a short break following an incident (eg having a cup of tea in the staff room)
- stepping in to observe an interaction
The veterinary incivility toolkit
Through our research exploring incivility in veterinary practice, involving more than 400 veterinarians, veterinary nurses and other veterinary staff to date, we have developed an in-depth understanding of incivility, its associated impacts and commonly used methods to respond in this context.
To support veterinary staff […] we have used this research as the basis for the development of a veterinary incivility toolkit
In order to support veterinary staff in managing rudeness and mitigating any adverse consequences, we have used this research as the basis for the development of a veterinary incivility toolkit (VIT). The aim of the toolkit is to provide a suite of free online materials that can be downloaded by veterinary practices to support the development of incivility management strategies.
The toolkit includes the following core materials:
- Central guidance: a document explaining uncivil behaviours, how those behaviours might impact staff and preferred coping strategies reported by our research participants. This is the ideal place to begin engagement with the toolkit
- Incivility cards: one-page diagrammatic presentations of core incivility concepts, designed to be easy to digest while on the go and an ideal mechanism for raising awareness and starting conversations about rudeness with colleagues
- Explainer videos: bitesize video recordings featuring veterinary experts discussing their perceptions of rudeness, sharing their experiences and providing insights into individual and organisational approaches to managing incivility. The videos provide an alternative to reading materials and can be viewed and shared easily
- Activities: a range of individual and group activities designed to support the measurement of incivility, track incivility over time, reflect on uncivil experiences and discuss approaches to incivility management. Each activity is described in detail and has implementation instructions
Veterinary practices and associated stakeholders can view and download the VIT materials for free. Practices may wish to focus on specific aspects within the materials or can use the full range to support awareness-raising and intervention-development activities.
Although we now know a lot about incivility in veterinary practice, there is still more to learn! Research in this area continues with a defined focus on organisation-level support mechanisms for staff. All future research will be fed into the toolkit, with further materials and resources being developed over time.
Research in this area continues with a defined focus on organisation-level support mechanisms for staff
We also plan to develop a pocket guide to incivility and to host incivility webinars. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the toolkit or tackling incivility in general please get in touch with Amy Irwin.