Sweeten the deal

Sweeten the deal

Jun 01, 2006

So you're feeling like you place a classified ad in the "help wanted" section every week. And just about the time you think that last hire is finally going to make it, she takes off.

If these frustrations ring a bell, step back and look at your team compensation and benefits package. Do you offer a sweet enough deal?

I consulted with a practice about a year ago that offered excellent medicine and surgery and had a very competent practice manager. But the practice constantly suffered from high staff turnover. The churn affected their profitability, customer service, and team morale.

We took a hard look at employee compensation and benefits and made some changes. Some cost quite a bit; others not as much. But over the past year, the team significantly reduced turnover and improved profitability. You've heard you'll spend at least half an employee's annual salary to recruit and train a replacement. So it's easy to see why it's better to talk good people into staying. These strategies can help.

Provide more paid vacation

Why team members stick around
This is an easy one to tackle. Most veterinary practices offer five days of vacation to their team members after one or two years of employment and 10 days per year after three or more years. Some even offer 15 days of vacation after seven or more years of employment.

Why not offer additional vacation days, or make them available sooner? If you're not already, you might offer one week of vacation after a year of employment—or even after six months with the practice. Then give two weeks after team members' second year of employment—and maybe add a day per year until they get up to three weeks of vacation. Exceeding the standard certainly makes the job more attractive and may help you retain some key employees.

Offer personal leave

I've never been a big fan of sick time. In my opinion, it rewards employees for being sick or encourages them to lie to use up their sick days. I prefer personal leave instead. Many practices offer full-time employees a half day per month or six days per year of personal leave. Employees use it if they're ill or for any reason, with a manager's approval at least 30 days in advance. Normally this time can accumulate to six or 12 days so it acts like a short-term disability policy.

To enrich this benefit, why not offer six hours per month instead of four? Or, forget all sense of reality and offer one day per month, or twelve days a year. You could also reward employees who don't use their personal leave by offering to double the days they have left at the end of the year and pay or give them a bonus for them.

Of course, if you increase employees' vacation time and personal leave, you might not have anyone actually at the practice to work, and you'll still have a sizable payroll—so remember to be practical. But still, a little improvement here and there will make quite a big difference.

Offer personal time off

How do your benefits stack up?
Instead of setting aside specific days for vacation and sick time or personal leave, some practices choose to offer a block of personal time off (PTO). Employees can use this time for vacation, sick time, or personal leave. You might offer a full-time employee 90 hours of PTO after his or her first year, 115 hours after year two, and 130 or 150 hours after year three.

I know a practice that used a combination of vacation and PTO. They maintained their vacation policy and on top of it gave employees 60 hours of PTO after a year of employment. Employees really appreciated the flexibility this offers.