To do high-quality work, veterinary team members need to feel respected. But before respect comes the need to fit in with the team. But who can worry about fitting in when the veterinary clinic is full of electrical hazards and fall risks? And if you can’t breathe with all the dust, chemicals, and unfiltered odors from the kennel, well, a fall is the least of your worries. That’s how the accounting firm Lacher McDonald & Co. has adapted psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs to the veterinary workplace.
In Maslow’s original hierarchy, the ladder of needs starts with the most basic—food, water, shelter—and ascends all the way to self-actualization, when people have the time and freedom to live their dreams and think about others’ needs as well as their own. Here is Lacher McDonald’s ladder of veterinary needs on the road to self-actualization. Are your managers keeping team members on the bottom of the ladder or helping them to reach the very top?
1. Physiological needs, like air, food, water, and healthy body temperature. Good air conditioning and comfortable working conditions are major contributors to meeting physical needs. When employees are too cold or too warm, production suffers. When unpleasant smells permeate through your clinic, more effort is spent on breathing than working. Provide better, more pleasant air throughout your practice.
2. Safety needs, like freedom from tripping, electrical misconnections, and unsafe equipment. Handling aggressive animals can squash productivity, and front-desk personnel are ineffective if they feel threatened by clients or other visitors to your clinic. Establish procedures to keep team members safe.
3. The need for love, affection, and a sense of belonging. Team members who are alienated from the work group won’t be effective. Team members can sometimes make new employees feel uncomfortable and insecure. Helping new employees phase into your clinic can help them to bond. Introduce new team members to the entire staff, arrange for new team members’ first lunch, and assign someone to mentor new employees.
4. The need for esteem. We don’t just need to be loved. We need to be respected. Team members can’t get past this rung if they’re belittled, needlessly criticized, or constantly yelled at by their peers and superiors. Managers who belittle team members drive good employees away. Simple thank-yous can fill this need and result in a high level of self-confidence and productivity.
5. The need for self-actualization. Once all the above needs are met, a person is ready to self-actualize and do what they were born to do. That’s when productivity really happens. According to Maslow, self-actualized team members and managers tend to focus on problems outside of themselves, have a clear sense of what’s true and what’s phony, are spontaneous and creative, and are not bound too strictly by social conventions. Allowing managers who are not self-actualized to continue in their roles can be damaging to a veterinary team’s morale.