Tuesday, 6 December 2016

What is a good job? Fulfilling your hierarchy (Part One)

It is not uncommon to be asked “why did you become a vet?” And with a certain exasperated sigh and life flashing before the eyes thousand mile stare, your answer will be stock: “I care about animals.” When perhaps really what you actually meant was “all those years ago, I did care about animals, science and medicine excited me, knowledge excited me, I thought the money would be good, vets drove a good car, and…….. there was a certain level of kudos.”

But when asked 10 to 20 years later, you realise it was all smoke and mirrors. You still do care about animals. But do they care about you? Do they **$!

Almost every survey on the veterinary profession returns depressing figures of poor job satisfaction, and with it the unedifying relationship with mental health. In any other profession, this would and should not just set alarms bells ringing but call in the fire brigade.

In 1943 an American psychologist Abraham Maslow presented the theory that human actions are directed toward goal attainment (“A Theory of Human Motivation”). This is a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, starting from mere physiological subsistence, to belonging to a social circle, eventually in pursuing your talent and culminating in self-actualization.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has often been represented in a hierarchical pyramid with five levels. The base levels are considered physiological needs, while the top levels are considered growth needs. Vitally, any lower level needs must be satisfied before higher-order needs can occur, and if the deficiency needs aren't satisfied, the person will feel the deficit, with potential clinical results, and this will stifle his or her development.

* Physiological – air, food, water, sex, sleep.
* Safety – security of environment, employment, resources, health, property.
* Belongingness – love, friendship, intimacy, family.
* Esteem – confidence, self-esteem, achievement, respect.
* Self-actualization – morality, creativity, problem solving.

When Maslow's hierarchy is applied to work situations, it implies that managers/partners/directors have the responsibility, firstly, to ensure the deficiency needs are met. This means, in broad terms, a safe environment and proper wages. Secondly, it implies creating a proper climate in which vets can develop their full potential. Failure to do so often results in frustration, poor performance, low job satisfaction, and increased withdrawal from the organization and even within the individual. Achieving it would mean the reverse; a motivated, engaged and happy vet and the practice would be regarded as a more considerate, supportive and interested organisation.

Importantly good leaders/managers need to have this level of understanding if they are to be in a position to motivate. And to be a good leader and manager you need to recognise that people are different and at different stages in their development or hierarchy. Some people come to work to earn money (existence needs) but have no desire either to get on with others (belongingness needs), or earn promotion (growth needs). Others work to meet people and have a personal challenge and sense of achievement (belongingness needs). Others work to gain experience to get promotion (growth needs). For others, it may be a combination of these. How you go about influencing or motivating these needs is up to you and depends upon the person. For example, existence needs may mean simply paying someone enough, belongingness needs may be improved communication, recognition and praise; and growth needs may be training, encouraging creativity, involvement in practice decisions, new challenges etc.

So to return to the title – “what is a good job?” A good job is one which satisfies your needs. Your needs at the time and your potential needs as you develop.

Ben Sturgeon

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