Saying goodbye: Terminating a long-time veterinary employee

Saying goodbye: Terminating a long-time veterinary employee

It's never easy to let go of someone who's been by your side from the beginning. But sometimes it's the only option left. Here's how to do it with grace.
Jun 01, 2011

She's been with you longer than you can remember. When her name is mentioned, "loyal" and "devoted" are the words that come to mind. The thought of having to say goodbye is unimaginable.

As a leader in a veterinary hospital, you've been down this road before—perhaps too many times. You find yourself trying to ignore signs that indicate the end is near. But as time passes, the problems become more persistent and severe. Still you wrestle with the decision. Is saying goodbye really the best option for everyone concerned?

It's difficult to let go of a long-term employee. After all, she's most likely been with you through the ups and downs. She can tell stories of the good old days when the practice was smaller, vaccine schedules were simpler, and the battle with online pharmacies didn't exist.

But something has changed with this team member. Perhaps an air of entitlement has set in, her performance has started to waver, and her respect for others has diminished. If this is the case, it's time to make a hard decision.

Condoning elite status

If I interviewed your team members, would they identify someone (or multiple someones) as untouchable? If so, you have an employee with elite status. This employee abides by a different set of rules than the rest of the team. Perhaps she uses a cell phone in the reception area, argues with other team members inappropriately, shows up late, or parks her car in the client parking area—all without repercussion.

You may not have intended for the behavior to reach this point, but you can bet your team members have noticed—and don't like it one bit. A special set of rules for a certain employee breeds feelings of resentment from others. At this point it's only fair to level the playing field. By condoning an elite employee's behavior, you limit the rest of your team's ability to grow and prosper in a nurturing and cohesive environment.

Still, many practice owners and managers in this situation hesitate to take action. They balance the team member's actions against her many years with the practice and conclude that long-term service outweighs elitist behavior. They don't realize that while they're sweeping the problem under the entry mat, practice morale, productivity, and even profitability are plummeting. Frustration is turning to anger, and some team members are definitely entertaining job offers elsewhere.

Adjusting to change

The good news is that if you find yourself in this situation, you're not alone. Plenty of veterinary practices need to say goodbye to a certain member of the staff. In fact, many of these problem employees share certain characteristics. Here's a look at the most common reasons you may need to terminate a long-term team member:

The practice is changing directions. All practice owners and managers need to make changes periodically to meet clients' needs and desires and maintain a competitive advantage. And long-term employees often struggle with these changes. They might ask, "What was wrong with the way we've always done it?" or "Why are we changing this? It will never work."

Now, it's normal for all team members to show some hesitation or resistance during times of transition. But it becomes a problem when this resistance stifles your growth as a practice. For example, if you incorporate a new service into your practice but a technician who isn't on board gives clients a halfhearted explanation about its importance, how can you expect those clients to comply with your recommendations? Or if you incorporate Sunday hours, how can you allow one team member to stick to her old schedule while requiring the rest to work those hours? When you create a unique set of rules for a long-term team member, you're labeling him as different or special. By doing so, you're telling the rest of your employees that they're not as important.