Episode 41 – Improving Veterinary Team Culture by Focusing on Psychological Safety with Dr. Olivia Oginska

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Please see below for the full transcript but excuse any errors as it was auto-transcribed by Otter.ai

Stacey Cordivano 0:07 Hey there, it’s Dr. Stacey Cordivano. I want veterinarians to learn to be happier, healthier, wealthier, and more grateful for the life that we’ve created. On this podcast, I will speak with outside of the box thinkers to hear new ideas on ways to improve our day to day life. Welcome to The Whole Veterinarian. Stacey Cordivano 0:34 Hey, everyone. Before I get into today’s interview, I want to give a little background about some of the topics that we’re going to cover today. I’ve been digging into the effectiveness of work teams, because I think we can all agree that workplace culture has such an important impact on our overall feelings of well being. So Google conducted a huge study called Project Aristotle that was purely designed to study the effectiveness of teams. And they discovered that the most effective teams do not necessarily have the superstar players or the smartest minds, but they do have a few things in common. So I’m going to quote some things from Google’s education portal called re:work, and I’ll make sure to link it in the show notes. But basically, they found that effective teams all have five things in common. The first is dependability. Members can reliably complete quality work on time and their team members can expect that of each other. Number two is structure and clarity. An individual’s understanding of job expectations and how to fulfill these expectations are really important for Team effectiveness. Number three, finding a sense of purpose in either the work itself or the output is super important. Number four, the subjective judgment that your work is making a difference is also really important for successful teams. And finally, the presence of psychological safety is the most important aspect of an effective team. So members feeling confident in the idea that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else, from admitting a mistake, asking a question or offering a new idea. In fact, it is expected in these types of teams that you speak up with concerns, questions and failures. So by creating a climate of openness, psychological safety allows for innovation, and finding new and creative ways to operate veterinary practices seems like a key element to creating a healthier and happier future for our profession, in my opinion. Now you get to hear more about positive psychology, psychological safety and interpersonal incivility, from a lovely human being. Dr. Olivia Oginska graduated from the University of Poland in 2016. And shortly after graduation moved to the United Kingdom to start clinical practice. She also received her master’s in Applied Positive Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, and she now operates that gun real which provides coaching and mental support to both individuals and teams within veterinary medicine. You get to hear more of her honest and very relatable story in the interview. So let’s get right to it. I hope you enjoy. Stacey Cordivano 3:12 Hi, Liv. Thank you so much for sitting down to chat with me today. How are you? Olivia Oginska 3:16 Hi, Stacey, thank you so much for inviting me. I feel fantastic. And I’m really honored to speak with you today. Thank you so much. Stacey Cordivano 3:24 Sure, I’m excited to speak with you as well. So tell listeners a little bit about your background before we dig into our topic today. Olivia Oginska 3:34 Like you guys know, my name is Liv. And I’m polish. I graduated in Poland. And nearly six years ago, I’m a veterinary surgeon and I came to UK nearly straight after my graduation to pursue my dream of surgical residency. It is something that I fell in love very quickly. During my university times, I completed a few externships, it was always within that surgical world. And I came to UK to pursue that dream. But always alongside that I had that another passion for psychology. It wasn’t defined at that time. But for some reason, I always knew a lot about people who I worked with. And they always came to me to chat to talk about their problems. And maybe because I’m a very inquisitive person that I always ask them and they felt listened to. They wanted to tell me their stories. And that was always fascinating for me. And with time, that surgical dream following death path. It unfortunately made me maybe not the best version of myself. The more I dug into that surgical career, the more let’s say I wasn’t the most confident person I wasn’t the most likable person. I was someone who was very, very competitive and all my anxieties that have been there. Always they came to the surface. I was very unsure about everything around me, everyone around me, I couldn’t trust people. So like I said, it wasn’t the best version of myself. And then situation changed, I allowed myself to focus a little bit more on that other passion. This is how I discovered was the psychology. And the moment I saw the description of positive psychology, I was like, Oh my god, this is me. This is 100% my character. And then gradually, I read more, I educated myself more, and then decided to study positive psychology to do masters. And what I’ve been doing for many years talking to people, mentoring them, helping them and supporting their mental health. Suddenly, it turned out to be something that actually I was supposed to be doing with my life. And that turned into my career and my life now. Stacey Cordivano 5:52 Great! Can you define positive psychology for people? Olivia Oginska 5:57 So positive psychology is a branch of psychology that investigates the strengths that every individual already has. And we focus on the positive emotions that are within every person. So it’s not butterflies and rainbows and as spreading glitter all around how some people might think, is that about that it’s looking at the reality and accepting that it’s not perfect that they, there’s adversity, there are loads of negativity there. But instead of dwelling on it, we say, okay, fine, what can we do about that? How can we use what we already have? And all of us believe me, guys, you have so much in you that you can use instead of focusing on the problems. So yeah, it’s all about happiness. But also, it’s all about relationships. It’s all about social connections. Stacey Cordivano 6:48 That’s a super interesting story. I’m curious was there like a very specific turning point, when you were able to decide that positive psychology or your master’s program was the right direction for you versus just sort of slogging through your day to day career as a veterinarian? Olivia Oginska 7:06 Shortly before pandemic when I was diving deeper and deeper into psychology. And suddenly, I realized that the further I get from my surgical dream, the happier I become, and I had to go through that very painful transition, where my dream forever dream of becoming a specialist in surgery, my ambition, and something I had to prove to myself and everyone around that that actually might not be correct for me. And he felt like a failure. It felt really bad. It was the most difficult decision in my life to give up that surgical dream, because everyone knew around me that this is who I wanted to be. So that defined me, instead of me defining what my future might be. Stacey Cordivano 7:55 Yeah, I feel like that’s the case for a lot of veterinarians. I don’t know if you’ve come across that and your work now. But yeah, definitely hits home, I’m sure for a lot of people. So I know, in your master’s study, you focused on a few different things. And one of them is psychological safety, which for me, has come up a lot recently. And the more I learned, seeming to be pretty integral for veterinary teams, and I was recently helping to co lead a session for veterinary leaders. And I mentioned it because lots of people were complaining that they couldn’t get their teams to buy in or collaborate. And I mentioned it. And I don’t think anyone had heard of it. So when we got together to talk, and I realized that you had really been studying it, I was really excited. So can we define psychological safety for listeners, and then dig into how it might help or affect veterinary clinics and teams? Olivia Oginska 8:57 Yeah, of course. So maybe, before we give our listeners like a boring definition, I would like to introduce you that with a little story. So throughout my career, I somehow felt that I was a bit like a misfit, that it was always something not really correct. Wherever I was, there were someplace like GP practice, where I felt very comfortable. But then I entered the referral places where I always had so many questions. I’m one of those people who refuse to do something if I don’t fully understand what is the reason behind it. So I was asking a lot of questions. I didn’t internally agree with some of the things that were expected from me. So I didn’t feel really safe. And I was in trouble a few times. Maybe this is why I also became a conflict mediator. And it took me a really long time to realize that what I was actually missing was that certainty that, whoever I am, if I try to be my best self, that is okay. And that I am okay to ask questions to understand that I’m okay to be different than everyone else but still accepted. So with time what I realized that this is actually psychological safety. And as the definition says, it is a common belief of all team members, that is okay and acceptable to take the interpersonal risks. What do we mean by those risks? Because that sounds like dangerous like, Okay, well, what are those risks? It is simply an open communication, it is being yourself, it is seeking feedback, and also speaking up when you need to speak. So being accepted by the group. Stacey Cordivano 10:46 And I feel as though in a lot of veterinary clinics, it’s sort of this is the way things have always gone. While someone might want to change things. If it’s not feeling safe, or feeling Welcome to have suggestions, like that’s just a recipe for disaster. Olivia Oginska 11:06 Absolutely. psychological safety. It’s not just something that is a benefit for the employees. It’s not a giving them hugs, and, you know, treating them like they’re children and just patting their back, absolutely not. psychological safety has a clear reason. If we feel psychologically safe, if we can say whatever comes to our mind our concerns, if there is something to be concerned about, like a Jeopardy to our patients safety, we feel comfortable enough to speak up about that. So the more psychological safety we have, the more able we are to influence positively the workplace, to bring the the positive change, to grow, to develop, to bring new ideas, but also to make sure that our patients so in the health care setting, that they are safe, because there is especially in an in human care, health care. But also in our vet world, there is still a lot of hierarchy, particularly between nurses and vets. Sometimes nurses don’t feel safe enough to speak up when they see a mistake of veterinary surgeon, or the other way around. It really depends where on that hierarchy are and how far develop your career is, you might not feel okay to bring the attention of your supervisor to some mistake. And if that happens, then it becomes dangerous, because some important situation of problems, mistakes and errors might be missed. And actually, it is reported very, very common in human literature in the health care, and also is more and more studied in veterinary medicine. For example, in 2019, there was a study performed in the US, and they discovered that there were usually around five hours per 1000 patient visits across the different practices, so they check different environments. So if that is five patients per 1000, where the error occurs, altogether, it per year, it’s 1000s, and 1000s, and 1000s around the world. So those patients, they their safety is jeopardize, and that increases the disbelief in our industry, the doubt about spending money in our industry, it influences everyone involved, including the big corporations and their financial situations well, Stacey Cordivano 13:37 and then how does it affect team members like on an individual basis? Olivia Oginska 13:42 so psychological safety has been proven to definitely support well being mental well being of the team members. So imagine that you are in a team where something really difficult happens to you in your private life. Let’s say you’re going through a divorce. And that obviously influences how you feel your mood, how much energy you have, if you don’t feel psychologically safe, you want to feel okay to tell your co workers that there is something more happening in my private life. And that is the reason why I don’t feel well today. If you don’t say that out loud, people will start assuming and unfortunately, we have a tendency to judge quite quite quickly. There is quite a lot of blame in our industry, unfortunately. And people assume Oh, maybe that person’s lazy. Maybe that person is just being grumpy. So a lot of bad things and liking the vicious vicious circle, the more negativity people assume the more is generated and it spreads like Coronavirus from one person to another, that emotion contagion it drains energy from everyone around. So it definitely influences mental well being of everyone involved. You know if you can’t say what is really true, but you’re feeling physical health as well. If you have a pain somewhere in your body, you cannot say it out loud, because you might be judged again or you’re worried about your job. Your physical body suffers, it builds relationship within the team as well. It’s bonding, when you can be honest with your team, it is creating distance between people if you cannot be open with them. So yeah, individual relationships, and also how efficient how engaged you are. psychological safety, influence everything within the team and within the organization. Stacey Cordivano 15:36 So for people listening that feel like this might not be in place where they’re working, how would they go about establishing even an introduction to the idea? Olivia Oginska 15:47 I think the most important step, the first step is to make sure that your leader knows what psychological safety is, because it is within their hands to start changing the environment. And I always say that our culture, what we build within within the workplace, so our beliefs, our behaviors, our connections within the team, that is the culture within the workplace. It is influenced by every single person within that industry. But who has the most influence to start something new, a revolution, is the leader, because they make decisions, they change the policies, they influence life, every single team member. So if your leader knows what psychological safety is, that is the first fantastic step. And if they see a benefit for everyone in that psychological safety, then might decide okay, well, how do we do that, then? And then it’s a matter of conversation with the whole team checking with them. There are sets of questions that are available in live questions that are used in my own private practice and, and research in my consulting, to check the level of psychological safety within your team and be their skin use that. And if they discovered that it’s not great, then looking for the change that is needed. So do we need more open conversations? Is there a person who is particularly judgmental, maybe a bully may be someone who spreads incivility within the team, maybe that person needs to be approached, maybe it’s not just one person, maybe it’s many of us. Maybe we were all overstress. And we don’t have any other way to release this theme. And we just ended up being in civil. But there might be other better way to release that stress. So there’s a lot of elements that build that psychological safety, but starts with the leader. And then it spreads on every level within the team and everyone can be involved with all can change something towards being more open and safe. Stacey Cordivano 17:54 Yeah, great. I know a lot of the research shows that even in teams where they’ve tried to implement this, if the leader doesn’t follow through and isn’t open with admitting mistakes or sharing stories, I know that that tends to fall apart. So I think that’s a really important point. And then you mentioned the incivility and I know that’s also part of your study. So how does that sort of all play together and tell us a little bit more about workplace culture? Olivia Oginska 18:22 So if incivility is quite a difficult one, and it’s interesting, because recently I gave a talk on incivility and their response was very heated. It seems like a lot of us suffer from incivility, but I also touched on the very sensitive chord in people’s minds and hearts, because part of the incivility is for example, gossip, and then think that is incivility as well. So not only talking really bad things about someone openly criticizing nasty stares. Not only ignoring people’s these are like open very visible elements of incivility. But the less obvious the less visible ones are also gossip and venting. gossiping is something that we have very, it’s natural to us, because we want to be a part of a group. And especially if someone irritates us, if we have strong emotions about someone, then we need to release that we feel like we need to just release that steam. And then someone gets engaged. And this is how gossip generates. And it wouldn’t be anything bad about that, if that was just a release of emotions, and if that led to any solutions to repairing that problem with another person, or it turns into talking about someone just for the sake of talking about someone, and we liked it because we liked the bonding aspect of the gossip. We want to be part of the group we want to know we don’t want to be left out. So from our psychological perspective, we want to be in formed, we don’t want to be the topic of the gossip, but we want to be with the people who do that gossip, like turn it around. But if it turns into just spreading something that is not true, or sharing that negativity, instead of helping someone who actually might benefit from our help and support then that is incivility. And the same with venting if we don’t seek solutions, if we talk for the sake of talking,and again and again and again, about the same, and again Stacey Cordivano 20:34 yeah, Olivia Oginska 20:35 again, it spreads all over. And it doesn’t bring solutions. And we often refuse to listen to the solutions because we like that act of wine and whining together. That incivility is not obvious that gossip and that venting, it is okay to release the emotions. But it really depends how we do that. So it doesn’t turn into incivility. But why is it a vicious circle, because the more pressure we feel, so we are in a very stressful situation. Now in the world of pandemic, in the UK, Brexit, everyone’s freaking out, it’s really difficult for everyone, the more pressure we feel, the more emotions we have. So the more we will release them and probably in a nice, correct way. And that creates more incivility on top of that. So you can see like one follows another, it’s quite difficult to pull ourselves out of that vicious circle. Stacey Cordivano 21:32 Is there a healthier way that people could vent or release emotions? I mean, I’m sure there is. Do you have any suggestions? Olivia Oginska 21:39 Yeah, for sure. Interestingly this is something that I spoke about with my one of my coachees, she’s a practice manager, and she obviously has so many duties, and she takes care of so many people. So people come to her also with questions, comments, and that can easily turn into a venting session. And she’s a lovely person. So for her, it’s really difficult to just stop them and say, okay, it’s let’s the venting for now. It is hard. But so the first step is for people to understand how harmful it actually is. So if you show them lesson, if we have a venting session in the end of the session, okay, we release a bit of emotions, but I am left with nothing, there’s nothing that I can do to change my situation. So I am stuck in a situation, we don’t see anything ahead of us no outcome, no exit, basically. So that is one thing to realize that is pointless. It really doesn’t bring anything good. The second step is to realize that actually, for some people, especially if you’re in a management, you might not feel like a good manager, if you just spent two hours moaning about one of your employees, because your role is to take care of them instead of criticizing them. So the moral aspect and you’re like, how well do you feel with yourself? That is not helping. So once we realize that, guys, what we’re doing is okay, for a short moment, but it doesn’t bring in a solutions and actually feels bad, in the end that it is detrimental, that will trigger people to say, Yeah, actually, you’re right, is there any other way. And this is where we can introduce change. So I have a little recipe that I give my coaches when they meet a friend and other vets, and they’re like, Okay, I need to tell her about my boyfriend, I need to tell her about this, this and that. But somehow the work constantly creeps to the surface, and they constantly try to talk about that work instead of the plethora of other things that they be talking about. So guys, let’s give ourselves a period of time, maybe 10 minutes, set up the alarm on your phone and tell each other Okay, this is our chance to vent is like bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, anything that comes through your mind, just release the steam, we need to do that. But when you can hear that alarm ringing. This is the moment to literally take a break, take a deep breath, and maybe reflect a little bit. So what do we talk about? Okay, so we moan about this and this and this and that. We went through those points already. It’s pointless to go in circles and talk about the same the same all the time. What can we do differently now? Do you have any ideas? Could you advise me on that? And this is really bonding because we show one another day, I care for you. I don’t want you to be miserable anymore. How can we figure out that together? What is the next step? What is the easy thing that I can do in the next half an hour the next day, maybe we can start making some lace and like a plenty of things depending on the situation. But this is really loving another person and caring for another person when we help them to come out of that misery instead of perpetuating that misery. Have that sounds reasonable? Stacey Cordivano 25:02 Yeah, that’s great advice. I mean, that certainly happens a lot, right? Personally speaking, that happens a lot. So yeah, that’s a great to set the timer and then maybe come up with some goals. Even if you don’t come up with goals, I feel like setting a timer and having a limit on it is a great suggestion. So then to kind of go back, I feel like these definitely all tie in. So if you could give a leader in a practice advice on, you know, both the incivility and the psychological safety, what would you say are like the top things that they would see improved from their team if they dug into this and made it a priority? Olivia Oginska 25:40 I think one very important sign for the team leader that they might not have the best level of psychological safety in the team, is the fact that they think that everything’s alright. Because, sure, no, there’s definitely something. There’s definitely something that is not perfect, that is not a right. So do you actually know your employees? Like, do you know those people? Do you know something more about them? Apart from their role in the clinic? Do you know something more apart from knowing that they’re Yvette or a nurse, and they work nights or days? That’s the very first question How well do you know them? And it might seem a little bit like all it’s not my role to be their friend. The truth is that to lead people, well, you need to know how they approach their work, you need to know what kind of people they are. Because we don’t have one solution that fits everyone. In the leadership, we need to be quite flexible. So for some people, some solutions will be completely useless. For others, this approach will be perfect. So the better you know your team, the better you can lead them. And then the next question is, how much time do you spend with them one on one. And this is what everyone says every single leader or business leader that I know that I spoke to listen to, they say that those one on one meetings, even if it’s like 15 minutes, people feel really important if you check on them, if you speak with them, one on one. And what we all want in our life is attention to feel valued, to feel appreciated. So yeah, Do you know them? Do you appreciate them? Do you know about their problems? Do you think that they would come to you if they had a real problem? Stacey Cordivano 27:41 I think great question. That’s a good standard. I think that’s a wonderful standard. And then is there a general benefit that they may see if they do these things? Or is that also very specific, depending on the situation? Olivia Oginska 27:58 What the general benefit is, ladies and gentlemen, money. Money that stays in the practice. If we if we put on the side, all the well being of the people, that happiness, their subjective well being, what that generates is a revenue. Because consider that how many people now leave the profession? How many people, just the turn the turnover? Stacey Cordivano 28:22 Yeah, yeah, Olivia Oginska 28:22 exactly. Why do people leave? because they lack something very basic. So they’re very basic psychological needs are not fulfilled, and you can give them as much money as you want, but it won’t keep them in the job if the workplace environment is toxic. If they are very unhappy with theirs, if there’s a conflict with some other co worker, no one will stay there forever, all day, restate, and they will just really get very bad, very nasty and toxic to everyone around. So the benefit for the claim is that those people will feel appreciated, protected, safe, well taken care of, and they will stay and they will give the best of themselves to your clinic, which will generate happy clients will generate more clients, more people coming into the team, because they will see Oh, I think this is a good team. Maybe it’s worth joining them. And in the end, well, the revenue and all those things. So yeah, Stacey Cordivano 29:20 that is, I mean, that’s a good, good way to get just veterinary practice owners hearts, I think for sure, especially the turnover thing. I mean, aside from making money, it’s difficult to find people. So that is stressful as it is. So I want to hear what you are offering to help people in these ways. What do you have going on? Olivia Oginska 29:41 Yeah, there’s a lot of things that I do at the moment that there’s a lot of ways that I can help you depending if you’re individual. If you’re a member of a team, if you’re a team leader, I really truly believe in that holistic approach to your mental well being in the organization. So The help that many of us offer there’s a lot of coaches out there we helped individuals. So if someone really struggles goes through burnout, I coach people help them to set up new goals to defeat some limitations like anxieties, their fears, their low self confidence, imposter syndrome, perfectionist, there’s a lot of things that I can help them to defeat. But that is just the individual level. And I always say that, you know, you can have the most resilient person, and you drop them in a toxic environment. And they will crumble, because no one is invincible. So what we need is also the leader who will lead, the whole team will make sure that they have an opportunity to develop those healthy social connections within the team, what I do on top of that individual help, I work with the whole teams. So currently, I have a team in Ireland who I take care of, and it’s nearly 200 people team. And I support building those health connections within the team. I really believe that that is a very important ingredient of that approach. And the third element is policy. So from the organization perspective, what can be done, that is something that the management leaders, the owners, they can change, they can introduce, but they can be influenced by, by their team, by the suggestions, by observation of what works, we’re not a really want to highlight that I know that leaders are going through their own version of burnout. And I see that so we cannot push the responsibility entirely on the leaders. I see you guys. I feel you I know you suffer. And I am working on their way of helping you guys. So that is coming soon. And then the team the connections within the team and the individual. And that’s Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to do and help with. Stacey Cordivano 31:57 Perfect. So if people want to find out more about those offerings, where do they go? Olivia Oginska 32:02 so you can find me on my website. So vetgonereal.com, there’s lots of updates on Instagram. So vetgonereal, it’s easy as always vetgonereal. And on LinkedIn, you can contact me through there and myle email address is vetgonereal@gmail.com. So please feel free to email me if you have any questions and advice. There are quite a few speaking events recently. Some of them they are available for free online, some of them you would need to probably register. And I’m always happy to meet in person meet on zoom online and speak with you and listen to your needs. And give you some suggestions or start working with you. Stacey Cordivano 32:41 Awesome, I will make sure to link all of that stuff in the show notes so people can easily find you. We’ll make sure to link some of the free webinars too. And then last question that I ask all of my guests, what is one small thing that has brought you joy this past week? Olivia Oginska 32:58 Oh, there were quite a few. I was thinking about that today. And what really hit me this week this month basically is the beauty of actually the change occurring in our industry. So it’s not just me and let’s be clear, there are so many other coaches, beautiful people beautiful outside inside, who are doing wonderful things to change our industry. And I met some of them last week. And I feel truly blessed to to meet them to exchange our points of view our knowledge or experience to start working together on certain things are really believe in the power of partnership. We cannot make a change solo. We don’t need to be worried about being competitive, because there are 1000s of vets out there. And they all need our help. So we need to support one another and I’m so grateful I could meet so many wonderful people. So yeah, that was definitely a part of my week and month. Stacey Cordivano 33:59 Awesome, awesome. I 100% agree the movement and change that’s happening is really exciting and inspiring. So thank you for being a part of that. Olivia Oginska 34:07 I appreciate it so much and to you too, like you do amazing work as well through talking to so many people bringing that awareness. Thank you so much, Stacey. Stacey Cordivano 34:17 Thank you. Thanks again for sitting down with me today, Liv. Olivia Oginska 34:20 Thank you so much. And thank you guys for listening. Stacey Cordivano 34:25 Thanks again for listening into my discussion with Liv. She is amazing and all of her contact information will be in the show notes for sure. I hope you were able to get some takeaways to put into practice or at least heard something that you can talk with your management team about. I’ll put a bunch of resources in the show notes for you if you want to dig in further. As always, I so appreciate your time and support. If you want to get monthly reminders and other tidbits please subscribe to our newsletter at the whole veterinarian comm slash subscribe and make sure to follow me on Instagram at the whole veterinarian. Have a great week. Find some small moments of joy and I will talk to you again soon.


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