If you’re a veterinarian or office manager, does this scenario sound familiar?

Sure, your veterinary office staff is getting their work done. They let you know when customers arrive and they check them in and out efficiently. They’re never rude and you can’t pinpoint anything that is blatantly wrong, and yet . . . something is wrong.

If you believe that your office staff is emotionally disengaged from work, your observation is likely to be accurate. A Gallup study of more than 1.5 million employees shows that:

  • 28 percent of employees are engaged in their work
  • 55 percent are disengaged
  • 17 percent are actively disengaged

This means that 72 percent of employees are not genuinely connected to the work they do! And, take an honest look in the mirror. Does this next description sound like you?

You arrive to work each day, needing to paste on a smile before you greet your veterinary office team and, although you do your best with each client, it’s feeling like – well, like a job, when it used to feel much more joyful.

Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin. If you’re part of a veterinary office staff, have you experienced either (or both!) of these?

Scenario 1: You love animals and began working in a veterinary office for just that reason. But, the paperwork is grinding you down and the enthusiasm that you once had for your job just isn’t there anymore.

Scenario 2: When you got a job at the Main Street Veterinary practice, you were thrilled! Working with Dr. Joanne was a real privilege and more than one person in her office went to veterinary school themselves because of her encouragement and leadership. And, it used to be so enjoyable to work there . . .

Whether you need to motivate or be motivated, and whether you’re part of practice management or part of the practice office staff, the question remains: how? How can you motivate yourself or others to transform a practice?

Motivation as a Partnership

According to Bernard L. Erven, a professor in the department of agricultural, environmental and developmental economics at the Ohio State University, and Robert A. Milligan, professor in the department of applied economics and management at Cornell University, motivation works best when both employer and employee are vested in the process.

Employee Contributions

Employees’ most crucial contribution is self-motivation (more about that later) and commitment to making the partnership work. It is their role to seek out a job and work environment that “fits their knowledge, skills, abilities, needs and interests” (Erven and Milligan, 2001) with miscast employees seldom able to maintain motivation. The employee must be open to learning and willing to admit whenever he or she doesn’t know something. There must be a commitment to the vision, mission, core values and goals of the workplace and the willingness to communicate needs, concerns and ideas – then listening to the employer response.

Employer Contributions

Employers must address two factors: dissatisfiers and motivators. Dissatisfiers include “poor working conditions, unsafe equipment, exhausting physical work combined with excessively long work days and weeks, unfair pay, disagreeable supervisors, unreasonable rules and policies, unchallenging work and conflict with co-workers” (Erven and Milligan, 2001). Employers must proactively participate in resolving these issues, while recognizing that this will most likely increase employee satisfaction, but will not serve as motivators. To turn an employee from a merely satisfied one to a motivated one, employers must provide training and create experiences that will foster “achievement, recognition, satisfying work, responsibility and personal growth” (Erven and Milligan, 2001).

Motivation versus Inspiration

Lance Secretan, PhD, the author of Motivation and the former CEO of a Fortune 100 company, suggests that motivation isn’t the real answer. According to Secretan, motivation is based on fear, a carrot-and-stick approach. It is externally based, wherein an outside source must create the momentum. Inspiration, on the other hand, is internally based and has love as its foundation. More specifically, “Inspiration is a way of being that can be encouraged by another person who is also inspired” (Swift, 2013). Inspiration can be contagious!

Here’s another crucial point. It is “difficult, perhaps even impossible, to inspire others when operating from a place of fear, worry, or concern” (Swift, 2013). So, before you can inspire others, you must first work on your own self, whether you’re on the management side of the practice or are part of the office team.

Re-remember yourself and your purpose! At one time, you most likely had tremendous enthusiasm for what you were doing. Perhaps you are the only practice in the area for large animals or maybe you have state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment that has saved lives. No matter what the specifics, you are caring and advocating for animals, which is a blessing to both the animals and the people who bring them to you. What is your mission and vision, both personally and as a practice? When you tap into that purpose, mission and vision, inspiration naturally refuels your enthusiasm.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Author Clayton Christenson published a book titled How Will You Measure Your Life? In it, he doesn’t differentiate between the concepts of motivation and inspiration, like Secretan does, but he does reaffirm the concept of returning to why you were inspired to enter your profession in the first place to regain enthusiasm. Co-authors Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners (Don’t Retire, Rewire!) refer to motivational factors as “drivers,” and it can be very helpful to mindfully think about your personal and practice-wide drivers. What makes your job truly meaningful?

When veterinary professionals focus on their drivers, they are often the following: “loving animals, solving problems, dealing with science, helping people and making a difference in the community” (Paul, 2013). And, when you lose sight of your main drivers, dissatisfaction often sets in. Christenson says that these are the important questions to ask yourself (and then remind yourself of your answers):

  • Is this work meaningful?
  • Will I be able to grow from it?
  • Am I going to learn?
  • Is there recognition?
  • Do I make a real difference in my community? (Paul, 2013)

Let the “yes” answers reinvigorate you!

Self Care and Observation

If you feel yourself dragging and your motivation/inspiration is lacking, the problem could be exhaustion or other physical causes. How often do you feel tired? How much sleep do you get? How often do you feel sick, in pain or lethargic? See your doctor regularly, get enough rest and “Listen to your body when it’s telling you things, seek out the causes of your discomfort, and deal with them as best you can” (Stillman, 2014).

Here’s another thought. If you’re feeling frustration, are you in fact in a state of growth? The cliché of “no pain, no gain” contains truth – and, when you’re adding to your abilities and achievements, it’s common to feel uncomfortable and this can drain your energy. But, the feeling of discomfort can actually be one of stretching and expanding your horizons.


Erven, B.L. and R.A. Milligan. (2001, July). Making Employee Motivation a Partnership, Ohio State University and Cornell University. Retrieved from http://aede.osu.edu/

Paul, M. (2013, April 1). Check Your Balance: Discovering What Motivates You as a Veterinarian, Veterinary Business DVM 360. Retrieved from http://veterinarybusiness.dvm360.com

Stillman, J. (2014, October 8). 5 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Work Harder, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com

Swift, W.B. (2013, January 1). Stop Motivating and Start Inspiring Your Veterinary Staff, Veterinary Business DVM 360. Retrieved from http://veterinarybusiness.dvm360.com



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