The veterinary team member's guide to dating and workplace relationships

Whether it's a budding workplace romance, best friend blues, or family drama, personal relationships can really wreck the peace in a veterinary practice. Practice management experts and team members who've been there will offer advice to keep personal relationships from interfering with professional life.
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Jun 01, 2012

Imagine working with the person who changed your diapers. Or the one who nursed you back to health when you suffered from the flu. Or the one you've loved, fought with, danced with, and slept with for the past 15 years. If you've ever worked for—or with—family, you know it can be a challenge to separate your work and personal life. And when the boundaries begin to blur, it can spell big trouble for you, your co-workers, and your family.

Is there a way to make working with a family member or love interest work for you? Consider the experiences of these team members and review their practical advice to help you balance your professional and personal relationships.

All in the family

About 60 percent of businesses in the United States are family owned, so there's a good chance that you'll work in a family-owned practice sometime in your career. Or maybe you're part of the family that owns the practice and you work there.

One of the most common relationships in a veterinary practice is a veterinarian whose spouse works as practice manager. Other common relationships might include team members who are related, such as a technician whose grown daughter joins the team as a customer service representative.

"The biggest problem is the blurring of boundaries and confusion about their roles," says Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member Shawn McVey. "Am I your mom right now, or am I your boss? Am I your co-worker right now, or am I your big brother?"



For Lee Griffith, working for his father, Dr. Scott Griffith, wasn't something new. He'd grown up working in his dad's veterinary practices, filling in as a kennel attendant, a veterinary assistant, and general dogsbody until he graduated from high school.

"Cleaning ears was probably my least favorite part of the job," Lee says. "And I remember there was a point in high school where I thought cleaning ears is one reason why I never want to grow up to work in the veterinary industry."

Instead, Lee pursued work as an auto mechanic and received special certification. At family dinners, Lee and his father would often discuss different diagnostics and techniques for cars vs. animals and discover the unexpected similarities.

"You can't really ask a dog what's wrong, just as you can't ask a car what's wrong with it," Lee says. "We'd also discuss our techniques for dealing with clients and the success we found by being transparent with clients. We found we were really on the same page with our service approach."

In 2009, Dr. Scott got an idea for a new way to practice in a unique locale: He decided to open a practice in the French Quarter of New Orleans. When Dr. Scott invited his son to fill the role of practice manager at The French Quarter Vet, Lee decided to take a chance.

"Honestly, I was never nervous about it. I was excited," he said.

Lee said his father's vision for the practice and the model Dr. Scott planned played a big role in his decision to accept the position. "The practice model he used created a practice I'm happy to be working in," he says. "I enjoy working here and I'm proud of what we've done. I love the product we're selling and the service we give clients."

Lee credits their open communication and close relationship for keeping communication streamlined. While he admits that in stressful times the natural tendency is to take comments more personally because of their personal relationship, he says their shared pride in the business and its success helps them work through conflict.

"On our more stressful days, we make a point to bring everything back to reality with a comment like, 'I'll see you at Grandma's house for dinner,'" Lee says. "It's nice to have that little reset button to pull you out of work mode now and again. We try not to lose sight of the fact that we're still family. Sometimes you've got to leave work at the office and go back to being a family. As long as you keep focus on that, it helps."

On the other hand, this father-and-son team don't shy away from work conversations after hours when inspiration strikes. Lee says this flexibility allows them to share their ideas and the space to explore them later in a work setting. The key, he says, is they try to avoid abusing their flexible business and work relationship.

"When we're not at work, we try to avoid getting too heavily into the work stuff," Lee says. "That way we can still enjoy our free time. Neither one of us wants so get burnt out on the whole situation."