Caring for the carers: putting well-being first at Sandhole Vets

Published in the Veterinary Business Journal in October 2016

According to the charity Mind, one in four people in the UK experience some form of mental health problem every year.

A seven-yearly survey into the mental health of our nation by the Health and Social Care Information Centre(now NHS Digital), meanwhile,found depression affects 2.6in 100 people, while 4.7 suffer from anxiety.Unfortunately, 9.7 in 100 people suffer from both. At Sandhole Vets, we take ourresponsibilities as employees,colleagues and friends veryseriously, so while practice liferemains inherently stressful, weaim to equip our team with toolsto help them combat stress,as well as ensuring practicalhelp is always available.So, we decided to put a
practice well-being programme in place with the fundamental aim to make our practice a place where we work togetherto create a supportive working environment; a place where well-being is never about putting on an event so a box can be ticked. So, while our planned “Well-being Week” marked a very tangible focus,it was only the start of an
evolving genuine culture shift.Getting started. We held a week of workshops and competitions, all aimed at getting everyone to feel good about sharing how they feel – which, let’s face it, doesn’t always come easy for everyone. Some of the week’s events were simply aimed at getting the team together for a laugh and a bit of healthy competition– we gave a prize to the person with the most colourful and healthy lunch, for example. We also encouraged everyone to get outside for a walk at lunchtime, to natter about anything other than work. It’s so tempting to use the lunch “break” to catch up on telephone calls and emails, but we are much more productive following quality downtime like this. While we did our bit, we also recognised certain services and skills are often best provided by more qualified people – in our case, Caroline Hart and Gabrielle Treanor. Caroline held a laughter workshop session one evening, which was every bit as bonkers as you might imagine, while Gabrielle worked with us to deliver some daily gems of inspiration to the team’s inboxes, to help improve underlying happiness levels.

Mindfulness

We also set aside a room where people could go for some peace and quiet/meditation/mindfulness – whatever you call it, it’s vital to make time for it. In fact, I’d recommend an app called Headspace for this. If you haven’t tried it yet, don’t scoff –the science behind meditation and mindfulness is compelling and just 10 minutes a day can really help reduce stress and anxiety levels. Of course, most practices haven’t got a spare room waiting to be converted into a yoga temple, but it’s easy to designate the staff room, or block out the smallest consult room, for regular slots.

Since our well-being week,we’ve all been determined to keep focused on taking some time to look after ourselves. Without exception, the team valued the week’s events and appreciated the commitment behind them. Cynics might think this focus on well-being as a bit happy-clappy, while sceptics might dismiss the need for it altogether – after all, vets never had well-being workshops and policies in the past. To these people, I say: “What have you got to lose by trying?” Common sense – and academic studies – indicate stressed people are more likely to be off sick, make mistakes, snap at colleagues and clients, and become less productive. All these stress-induced behaviours have a negative impact on practice finances and team dynamic. Well-being matters because individuals who are stretched, but not overwhelmed; encouraged, but not dictated to; supported, but not stifled, will pull together to do amazing things. Focusing on well-being works for everyone – it’s the right thing to do, in every sense.

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