Rudeness towards veterinary professionals is associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety - along with an increased risk of burnout - and could incite some to rethink their future in the industry, new research suggests.
In the paper, published in Veterinary Record, psychologists at the University of Aberdeen warn that the veterinary team can experience rudeness from clients and co-workers with varying effects.
The idea of emotional labour, which suggests that veterinary employees must offer professional "service with a smile" - even if the customer is acting impolitely - may explain the link between client rudeness and increased anxiety and the risk of burnout.
Senior colleagues' rudeness was linked to lower work satisfaction and a higher risk of leaving. If their organisation does not support them, veterinary nurses, in particular, may be more likely to leave their practice or the profession.
Based on their findings, researchers suggest that veterinary workplaces should encourage staff to discuss rude incidents to gain support from colleagues and build procedural support mechanisms, such as guidelines for managing uncivil clients.
The team also recommends having protocols for taking additional staff into a consult and re-allocating client consults to allow them time to recover after an uncivil interaction.
Study lead Dr Amy Irwin from the University of Aberdeen’s School of Psychology commented: “With reports showing that more than three million UK households have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, vets are under increased pressure.
“Clients themselves might also be struggling, with the financial aspect of veterinary care provision highlighted as a sensitive area, with several participants describing incidents that began when the client received the bill. Participants suggested this type of reaction could sometimes be based on client guilt, where the client chooses not to proceed, or refuses a treatment, because they cannot afford it.”
In the study, researchers looked at client and co-worker incivility towards vets and veterinary nurses across the UK and Ireland. The work built on previous studies that highlighted aggressive clients as a stressor for vets working alone, particularly when working on-call or at night.
The initial Aberdeen-led interview study focused on client incivility was published in Veterinary Record in December. A more in-depth questionnaire-based research assessing customer and co-worker incivility, completed by 252 veterinary workers, is presently in-press with the same journal.