Stop the revolving door at your veterinary practice

Stop the revolving door at your veterinary practice

Trying to keep clients is hard enough, but problematic employee turnover on top of that can be a nightmare. Here are a couple ways to retain employees.
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Sep 13, 2013

The “Management Matters” blog features the writing of veterinary practice management consultants Monica Dixon Perry, Mark Opperman and Sheila Grosdidier. Come back every month for their unique take on current and future trends in veterinary practice as well as tried-and-true tips for improving patient care, team member morale and practice revenue.

How would you feel if your newly hired associate veterinarian resigned after only two weeks of employment? If you are an owner or manager involved with personnel management, you may find my comments don’t sit very well with you. But if you are experiencing high turnover, it is time for change on the personnel management front and that time is long overdue.

As a consultant at VMC, Inc., I speak on the importance of the steps one must take when recruiting, interviewing and attempting to retain employees. Still, not a week that goes by that I don’t hear from managers or owners looking for help because someone quit or has been terminated. I feel exhausted for those who have to repeatedly place ads, interview, hire and train employees.

Why is turnover so high in our industry? Or, maybe I should ask, why do we still accept that turnover will be high and has to be commonplace in our industry? My plea to managers and owners is to put an end to this vicious cycle that has negatively influenced our profession. I see many practices struggling with low new-client numbers and volume while, at the same time, many others are experiencing off-the-chart growth. Although a number of factors can contribute to a practice’s success (marketing, location, reputation, etc.), I have discovered that the practices that struggle the most have what I refer to as a revolving door. They have receptionists running the front desk with less than one year of experience. Their technical members are not being leveraged and properly utilized because thorough training was not provided. Their kennel members often possess poor communication and customer service skills and their associate veterinarians feel underappreciated and are looking for a way out.

If we, as a profession, would invest just a fraction of the time that other industries do in recruiting and training, excessive turnover could become a thing of the past for veterinary medicine. Let’s stop simply trying to fill vacant positions with a warm body and do due diligence when preparing and placing ads. Job descriptions and training programs should be created and in place for all positions within the hospital. Reference checks, pre-employment drug tests and working interviews should be consistently performed and not optional. We have to be equally committed to hiring the best fits as we are to promoting preventative medicine. Don’t be the practice more committed to creating wellness plans than to reducing your turnover.

Too often I see owners and managers who aren’t showing appreciation for their team members. What does it take to say “thank you” and “you are appreciated” every now and again? What does it take to look at average pay scales for your area to make sure you are offering fair wages? What does it take to look at your benefits to make sure you are offering competitive packages? I have owners who wonder why they have problem employees when they are paying them minimum wage. The adage “you get what you pay for” is what immediately comes to mind. I have been extremely fortunate to work for two employers who truly value their employees, not only from a financial standpoint, but from an appreciation standpoint as well.

Employers need to see their team members as their biggest asset. I am still taken aback as to why some employees work for a company for 10 years or more and receive no paid vacation. If the desired outcome is to have the cream of the crop, then decisions should be made regarding what you, your clients, patients and existing team deserve. To you owners who have practice managers, hold them accountable and let them know that high turnover is no longer acceptable. To hire right, thoroughly train and retain should be the expectation with all employees. Your managers should be committed to this vision and not have a hit-or-miss approach. They need to keep employees motivated, engaged and challenged. If they are doing this consistently, I am convinced that high turnover no longer has to exist in our profession.

My hat goes off to the managers and owners who have gotten this right. With all the challenges that come with running and owning a business, high turnover is one challenge that is created unnecessarily. As the saying goes, you are only as good as your help. Make sure you are doing everything you can to cultivate the best.

Monica Dixon Perry is a veterinary practice consultant at VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo., and a regular contributor to this online column.

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