Aggression and discrimination in the workplace can occur when someone is treated differently and less favourably than others; this could be on the grounds of their age, gender, race or any of the other nine protected characteristics listed under the Equality Act 2010.
What do the statistics say?
Statistics from the BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession spring 2021 survey concluded that 15 percent of vets have personally experienced discrimination and 21 percent have witnessed discrimination (BVA, 2021).
Statistics from the BVA Voice of the Veterinary Profession spring 2021 survey concluded that 15 percent of vets have personally experienced discrimination
The last 20 months have been tough on all professions with the rise of stress and burnout as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in accordance with the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative which surveyed more than 650 vet nurse graduates, 81 percent believed that veterinary nursing is a stressful career (Mind Matters and VNFutures, 2021).
What does this mean for my practice?
Working within the veterinary industry is, for many, a lifelong passion which has taken years of hard work and determination to achieve. The pressure of the job, workload, deadlines, emergencies and staff shortages all have a part to play in influencing our mood while at work; however, these pressures can never be seen as a fair “excuse” for treating someone less favourably than others.
The statistics mentioned above unfortunately highlight that it is not uncommon for colleagues to be subject to unfair treatment in the workplace, and 67 percent of respondents say that this treatment comes from other colleagues (BVA, 2021). A working environment should be welcoming and inclusive for all and practices should therefore be alert to the fact that a hostile working environment is only going to increase the risk of employee burnout, stress and sickness.
A working environment should be welcoming and inclusive for all and practices should therefore be alert to the fact that a hostile working environment is only going to increase the risk of employee burnout, stress and sickness
The hostility could come in many forms; it could be a blatant act of discrimination or it could be subtle daily exposure to “minor” discriminatory behaviour known as microaggressions. Microaggressions can be hard to fully understand due to difficulty identifying them and distinguishing them from other forms of discrimination, but both can see great harm to your staff and their mental health.
Often, our unconscious bias has a large part to play in the way we treat one another and while you may believe you don’t treat someone differently or say something that could be deemed as offensive to someone else, it is down to interpretation. The surroundings and exposure to differences growing up can have negative connotations attached, which become so deeply rooted that we do not realise when they surface.
In the workplace, respondents of the BVA’s 2019 Discrimination in the Veterinary Profession survey commonly described discrimination such as being asked to take on greater workloads, being allocated less desirable tasks, a lack of tolerance when needing to work at a different speed or quality or needing time off, lower rates of pay and lack of access to flexible hours or training (BVA, 2019). Incidents involving clients refusing to accept service from vets of a particular protected characteristic were also frequently described. This reoccurring exposure to sometimes more subtle discrimination may have a larger negative effect on your employee’s mental health when compared to a single act of blatant aggression or discrimination.
Reoccurring exposure to sometimes more subtle discrimination may have a larger negative effect on your employee’s mental health when compared to a single act of blatant aggression or discrimination
With other organisations starting conversations among staff to foster more civil working environments, the recent Civility Saves Lives NHS campaign has been introduced to highlight the impact of rude or aggressive behaviour between colleagues in the workplace and how this correlates with the risk of burnout. If we bring this back to the veterinary industry, 96 percent of vet nurses have experienced an uncivil event (Mind Matters and VN Futures, 2021) so it is likely that that has a part to play in the rise of burnout we are currently seeing.
What can we do?
As with anything, small steps can often help to make big changes:
- Create a more supportive culture. Having systems in place for a positive culture set by leaders is key
- Ensure correct policies are in place. One of the main reasons this unfair behaviour goes undetected by practice owners is because staff do not know how to complain or report the incident and it is therefore important to have clear procedures in place for giving staff a safe forum to speak
- Take time to reflect on the language you and your colleagues use. Are you aware of how that may make someone feel?
- Encourage and support groups and networks such as BVLGBT+ and BVEDS. Services such as an employee assistance programme (EAP) can also provide staff with another means of support
- Utilise resources. In October 2021, the BVA launched materials designed to make veterinary professionals stop and think about what they say, and to spark conversations about these issues. The posters and blogs are intended to start a new #BigConversation about microaggressions between veterinary professionals and the effect they have on members of the veterinary community