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4 Ways to Support a Struggling Team Member

Updated: May 4

It’s no secret that working in the veterinary industry can be emotionally challenging. Whether it’s a non-stop day filled with urgent appointments, having to deal with a difficult client or helping a beloved long-term patient cross over the rainbow bridge, ‘a day in the life’ can be downright exhausting. Leaning on one another is essential to preventing burnout. When a team member appears to be struggling, here are four things you can do to help support them through it.

Know the Signs

People react differently to stressful situations, however, there are some common signs to watch for that could be a red flag that a coworker is in distress. Some of these signs include:

  1. Changes in performance;

  2. Making comments about sadness or hopelessness;

  3. Decrease in personal hygiene;

  4. Showing symptoms of possible substance use;

  5. Acting lethargic;

  6. Exhibiting an apathetic attitude.

If you notice any of these things, chances are your team member could use a helping hand.


The next thing you can when you notice a colleague may be having a difficult time is to approach them and let them know you understand what they’re going through. Tell them you’re there for them if they want to share and then put your money where your mouth is by genuinely listening. Oftentimes just acknowledging that it’s ok to experience the feelings they are experiencing and letting them know they’re not alone can do wonders for helping lift someone’s mood.

Offer Advice Only if Asked

Not every situation calls for a solution. In many instances, simply being able to get things off their chest may be enough to make a colleague feel better. Resist the urge to jump in and offer advice – even if you think it could be really helpful. Instead, wait for an invitation. Let your coworker know you have a few suggestions and ask if they’d be interested in hearing them. If not, don’t take it personal. They may come back to you later, but for now, just be a shoulder to lean on.

Be Specific

Blanket statements like, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” are really not helpful, especially if you don’t have a close personal relationship with your colleague. Instead, focus on specific ways to lend a hand. For instance, if you notice your fellow Vet Tech seems to be feeling overwhelmed, offer to take their next patient for them so they can take a break. Simple gestures like this can provide a huge sense of relief to someone who is having a really rough day.

Supporting one another is the hallmark of a strong, successful team. In the veterinary industry, this is especially important. By knowing the signs to watch for and taking the right approach, you can help a colleague in need, build trust, strengthen your relationship and foster even better teamwork. In doing so, you’ll all be better able to provide exceptional service and support to your clients.

Our Advice on Ways to Support a Struggling Team Member in 2024

How can veterinary practices proactively foster a culture of support and open communication, so that team members feel comfortable?

Veterinary practices can foster a supportive culture by normalizing open conversations about challenges and mental health through regular team check-ins and confidential feedback channels. Encouraging managers and staff to share their own experiences cultivates a sense of empathy and reduces stigma. Training in active listening and non-judgmental communication ensures team members feel heard and respected. Providing mental health resources, like employee assistance programs or stress-relief workshops, reinforces the commitment to well-being. Celebrating teamwork and creating a blame-free environment fosters mutual trust and camaraderie among the staff.

How can practices balance the need for confidentiality and privacy with the desire to support struggling team members?

Practices can balance confidentiality with supporting team members by creating clear, discreet channels for communication. Encourage struggling individuals to share their challenges with trusted supervisors or HR personnel, who are trained to handle sensitive information with care. Implement policies that ensure any disclosed information remains confidential, sharing only on a need-to-know basis. Support staff should focus on listening and offering non-intrusive support, such as referrals to mental health resources. By upholding these standards, practices create a safe space where team members feel secure seeking help without fear of judgment.

What role can leadership play in modeling healthy coping strategies and promoting work-life balance?

Leadership plays a pivotal role in modeling healthy coping strategies by setting clear boundaries around work hours and respecting time off. Managers who openly prioritize work-life balance, take breaks, and seek support when needed encourage the team to do the same. They should advocate for manageable workloads and provide flexible schedules when feasible. Additionally, promoting stress-relief activities like exercise or team-building exercises fosters a positive work culture. By prioritizing well-being and demonstrating vulnerability, leaders create a supportive environment where healthy coping becomes the standard.

What are some strategies for supporting team members who may be experiencing chronic or long-term challenges?

To support team members with chronic challenges, practices can offer flexible work arrangements, allowing for adjusted hours or remote work when possible. Regular check-ins with empathetic managers provide a safe space for discussing needs without stigma. Providing access to counseling services or Employee Assistance Programs offers professional help. Cross-training staff creates a collaborative environment where colleagues can assist each other, reducing the workload burden. Encourage the use of personal time off for mental health breaks and recognize team members' contributions to promote a culture of understanding and inclusion.

How can practices measure the impact of their support efforts on key outcomes, such as employee retention, job satisfaction, productivity, or patient care quality?

Practices can measure the impact of support efforts by tracking key metrics like employee retention rates and comparing them before and after implementing new programs. Regular job satisfaction surveys provide direct feedback on morale and highlight areas of improvement. Monitoring productivity metrics, such as appointments completed per day or tasks handled per shift, offers insights into efficiency. Patient care quality can be assessed through client feedback, analyzing reviews, and satisfaction scores. Additionally, exit interviews can reveal if support programs influenced employees' decisions to stay, enabling continuous refinement of support strategies.

For more practice management tips, tricks, and expert advice, be sure to bookmark the DVMelite blog and check back often for fresh content.

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