AAEP Wellness Coverage: Communication Boundaries in a Healthy Workplace Culture

Cropped photo of a doctor holding a phone, with email and text message icons displayed above the screen.
Veterinarians who receive emails and text messages from colleagues on the weekends often feel pressured to respond. Implementing a no-email policy on weekends and holidays can improve well-being and work-life balance. Peopleimages/iStock via Getty Images

At the 2022 AAEP Convention, Dr. Nicolas Frank, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, presented his experiences in introducing new workplace communication boundaries for the faculty and residents of the Department of Clinical Sciences. In response to the perceived need for more “downtime” from email communication, he recommended a policy of not emailing each other on weekends and holidays. 

Process of Implementing Change

Collect Feedback

Ahead of implementing the change, Frank collected feedback from all the affected doctors. Those in favor of the proposal called attention to the perceived pressure of responding to a message sent from those higher in the power hierarchy. They also emphasized the need for time away from responding to work messages, especially when spending non-work time with families. Those against the policy relayed that it was more convenient to send emails during off-time and that they didn’t expect people to respond. Some felt that such a directive would limit their freedom, and others felt there was a lack of understanding of how busy they were during working hours. Some commented that a flood of emails on Monday would be difficult to manage.

Find Compromise

Still, the department believed that the policy would increase well-being and work-life balance. They encouraged faculty members working on weekends to write emails and store them in a Drafts folder. They could finish sending the emails on Monday. Or, they could use a delivery scheduling feature to arrange delivery after the weekend. Over time, those who did not speak up in meetings expressed support or appreciation for the new policy by email or through one-on-one conversations. Frank used this example to highlight the difficulty in establishing communication boundaries within organizations due to the variation in stakeholders’ preferences. 

Extend Workplace Communication Boundary Parameters

Frank then discussed the need to extend the parameters of boundaries to include texting, vacation management, meeting times and inclusivity. Inclusive organizational principles require allocating time to develop them. Members of the organization must lead through example with words and actions. They must redefine expectations for an “excellent veterinarian.”  

Focus on Holistic Goals

Change management is challenging, he said. To implement change effectively, he advocated for starting with individual meetings with all stakeholders to gather input. Next, he suggested holding group meetings to identify values and principles and to set expectations. The organization can then focus on holistic goals that do not ignore different perspectives, but rather concentrate on the fact that every member of the practice contributes in different ways. 

In closing, the speaker counseled that deliberate planning of the implementation of a new process is essential. Incremental progress is to be expected, he said, and strong, engaged leadership must be present for success.

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