As I do every November, I’ve started thinking a lot about gratitude. I realize this should be top of mind every day. And it is, to some degree. But I’m susceptible to seasonal messaging so I obsess about candy in October, ramp up my gratitude in November, focus on generosity in December, and energize on reinvention and renewal in January.

One of the things I love about being a relief vet is the constant supply of appreciation. Every time – literally every single time I work relief, I am thanked. The practice manager at a shelter I frequent, always says the loveliest things to their relief vets. Things like: “We appreciate all you do for us.” and “Without your help, we couldn’t provide the quality care to our animals.” It feels good to hear these things! And it makes me want to help out even more.

Skeptics will call this manipulative. Maybe. But I believe that true gratitude is always both generous and self-serving. After all, our brains release all those happy hormones when we express or receive gratitude, which makes us feel good, and makes us do it again.

A biological positive feedback loop is where the output of the system amplifies the system. In the case of relief vets, the gratitude we receive turns to positive input and increases our job satisfaction and propels us to more relief work. Of course, there are many other reasons we continue to work: helping people and animals, using our minds, making money, etc. But you get the point. Doing work that makes you feel good, then being thanked for that work, then getting that rush of oxytocin, makes you want to do more of that work.

Now let’s compare that to some associate positions. I definitely was not thanked every day when I worked as an associate. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that this is necessary. And anyway, it would start to lose its meaning and positive effects over time. But a common complaint of associates is that they feel under-appreciated. More like golden egg-laying hens who are there to produce for the practice, than appreciated team members who contribute qualities beyond production numbers that in turn elevate the overall value and culture of the practice. This is not some narcissistic, millennial, entitled, baloney. People of all ages want to feel valued and appreciated! There is science behind this idea. And when people feel this way, they are more satisfied and productive in their jobs.

So what can we learn from the relief vet gratitude positive feedback loop? How can we encourage these systems in all of our practice situations to reach a state of homeostasis and genuine career satisfaction?

Two years ago I attended New York Vet and was lucky enough to hear my friend Josh Vaisman, Co-founder and Lead Consultant of Flourish Veterinary Consulting, give a presentation. He has great advice on creating work cultures that generate positive feedback loops to keep teams engaged and satisfied with their jobs. Josh told this great story about how every day he would thank all the staff members at his practice for their work. It didn’t take long for his words to become meaningless. So he shared a feedback process called SBI which stands for Situation, Behavior, and Impact that can be applied in management scenarios. This keeps the positive feedback loop from shorting out by allowing those giving the feedback to be more specific about their gratitude and therefore more impactful.

Hearing his story made me wonder why the positive effect of the gratitude relief vets receive from practices, never seems to wane. I realized it’s because it tends to follow the SBI model.

For example:   

Situation – My associate veterinarian had to leave town suddenly for a family emergency.

Behavior – You came in to cover shifts at my practice last minute.

Impact – You allowed my practice to stay open and removed a lot of stress from my shoulders. I’m so appreciative of your help.

Of course, the situations will vary but this is part of what keeps the positive feedback looping. We are helping with specific scenarios such as vacation, maternity leave, illness, emergencies, seasonal increases in business, etc.

Finding situations to appreciate your staff members and coworkers shouldn’t be hard since they are all contributing to the success of the practice in multiple ways every day. And when that is noticed, they’ll feel good, and they’ll find ways to do it some more and pass on appreciation to others as well.

I encourage you to read this in Josh’s words since he says it best, so check out his related blog post here.

It certainly feels great to be thanked but it feels even better to be grateful. So I’m sending out a big thank you to all the veterinary practices who have trusted me to take care of their businesses. Also feeling oodles of appreciation for my fantastic, generous bosses at my previous associate position who provided me mentorship, a terrific team, and a modern, forward-thinking medical culture where I could grow and thrive as a veterinarian. And finally, a giant thank you to all the Relief Rover members and supporters who believe in the value of relief veterinarians and technicians.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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