Elevating Technician Appreciation Week
I love National Veterinary Technician week. Hearing about all the creative, genuine ways hospitals shower their techs with appreciation all week gives me the warm fuzzies.
Technicians are my spirit-people so when they get blasted with goodness my heart glows.
Ever wonder why National Veterinary Technician Week is such a hit?
There’s the obvious answer – it’s a whole week of showing appreciation for technicians. But that’s not the only reason.
It works so well, in part, because it’s formalized. Every year we all know this week is coming. It’s on the calendar. Everyone expects it so we all participate.
And for one week, we all feel pretty darn good. Or at least a bit better.
Which begs the question – why don’t we formalize these culture and well-being boosting activities the rest of the year?
We should. And that’s not just my opinion – it’s backed by research.
“What a Tech Wants” – a song by Christina Aguilera
Ok, that’s not really how the song goes. But it is what I wanted to learn more about.
So earlier this year I started a formal research study with this question in mind – “What energizes credentialed veterinary technicians at work?”
To find the answer, I turned to a robust qualitative research approach called descriptive phenomenology. This rigorous psychological research approach helps us find common contributing variables to accepted human phenomenon.
In this case, I wanted to find the factors that contribute to technicians experiencing what psychologists call, “subjective vitality,” in their work. Subjective vitality has been linked to a variety of beneficial outcomes like increased well-being, decreased burnout, job satisfaction, productivity and a variety of other “good to haves”.
Earlier this year I conducted intensive, semi-structured interviews with 7 credentialed veterinary technicians. All of them had at least 1 year of full-time experience in a hospital setting.
They shared stories of times they felt energized and alive at work, as well as times they felt exhausted and depleted. I had the interviews transcribed, verbatim, and began the time-consuming work of analyzing the data.
While the full analysis won’t be completed for a few more months, some themes are already emerging. I’ll share three here, two of which will not surprise you, one of which may. (Keep in mind, these are not the only 3 themes emerging in my research – more will come in the final publication when data analysis is complete).
3 things (of many) I feel comfortable saying technicians seem to need to thrive in their work are:
Technicians need to be seen and feel valued for the good work they do. This goes beyond the simple “thank you” – they want it to feel genuine, personalized, and as close to real time as possible.
Part of this is about feeling supported and cared for. This echoes some other recent data in which researchers have been tracking a variety of workplace well-being metrics. Across over 2 years of surveys they consistently find that when employees believe their leader(s) care about them as a person and support them in their work, their well-being and performance scores go up.
In one interview I conducted, when asked about a time they felt really energized in their work, one technician simply shared an experience working for a good boss. She explained that, “…the director at the time was a very big supporter of me, and she encouraged me….[really] tried to help me grow in the field.”
That kind of feeling comes from being seen and valued on an almost daily basis.
Imagine hiring a veterinarian and then having them answer phones, schedule appointments, and clean kennels. Having gone through the rigors of an advanced education and the stress of passing a board exam to become a licensed doctor, how excited to you suppose they would feel about their work?
Often this is precisely what we do with our technicians.
When asked to describe when they felt alive and vitalized in their work credentialed technicians consistently shared examples of times their advanced skills were put to use, or even put to the test and stretched.
One technician described a time when the caseload was particularly high and, instead of trying to do it all and using her techs as glorified assistants, the doctor on duty empowered them to take charge. For this tech, it meant having her finish suturing a urinary catheter while the doctor moved on to the next case.
As the technician explained to me, “…she trusted me…she knew that I could do it appropriately…it just increased my confidence and made me feel like I was in the right place…this is what I was designed to do.”
Self-Determination Theory, a prominent theory on human motivation, shows that a meaningful sense of autonomy and the experience of competence at work are major drivers of positive, productive engagement.
So it comes as little surprise that when technicians feel empowered to utilize and grow their skills, it energizes them.
The common cliché is that technicians get into the field because they love animals and don’t like people.
I think this is a myth and my research is bearing it out.
When asked about times they felt exhausted, de-energized, or depleted, not one technician told me this happened when they “had to work with clients”. In fact, the opposite seems to be emerging from the data.
Over and over I heard stories of technicians feeling alive, energized, and vitalized by interactions with clients. The common thread seems to be a sense of helping people – and seeing that their help makes a difference.
One tech told me a story about an older client with dementia. This woman was incredibly attached to her dog, who was also quite old. When it came time to say goodbye to her beloved pet, the woman’s daughter (who always accompanied her on visits to the vet) would not allow the older lady to be in the exam room. The daughter was apparently concerned her mother’s dementia would make it too difficult.
So, the older client sat alone in reception, softly crying to herself.
The technician I interviewed took it upon herself to sit with the older client, hold her hand, and console her. The client was grateful – and the tech’s boss noticed.
Afterward, the tech’s boss genuinely thanked her. She described this experience as energizing. The technician explained it was both the ability to help a client in need and seeing and feeling the difference it made for both the client and her boss, that impacted her and made her feel alive in a positive way.
Self-Determination Theory shows that relatedness, or a positive connection with other people, also contributes to subjective vitality and motivation. This bore out in my interviews time and time again.
Turns out despite the cliché, technicians are human beings too.
What Can Leaders Do With This Information
“Thanks for the info, Josh. And thanks for ruining Tech Appreciation Week. What am I supposed to do now?”
Oh, and sorry for ruining your week….on a Monday, no less!
The good news is there is plenty you can do. And it isn’t all that difficult. I suggest starting with two simple things:
Take advantage of Tech Appreciation Week. Shower your techs with gratitude and gifts this week, for sure. And, add something new – schedule a sit-down with each of them. Set aside 15-20 minutes and make the time all about them. Ask them questions like:
a. “Thinking about the past few weeks here, what’s something you’re proud of?”
b. “What’s something I should appreciate about you right now?”
c. “What’s a skill or strength you’re not getting to use enough here?”
d. “What’s a skill or strength you’d like to get better at?”
2. Find some time every day to notice your techs interacting – with each other, with the rest of the team, and especially with your clients. Look for positive, impactful interactions. Then, SHARE what you notice with them! Help them see and feel the positive contribution they make to other human beings.
Two simple things to elevate Tech Appreciation Week.
Bonus points if you can keep it going the other 51 weeks of the year.
And to all you techs out there reading this, thank you. For who you are, what you do, your special talent for always making me laugh, and incredible things you do to make the world a bit better every day. You inspire me.
I friggin’ love you guys!