What would your team members change about your practice if they could? If you can't answer that question, better start listening
to your staff. After all, employee dissatisfaction is at an all-time high, according to the New York Conference Board, a private
research group. In a survey of 5,000 households, more than half of all respondents said they disliked their current jobs.
Younger employees had the lowest levels of job satisfaction—only 39 percent of respondents age 25 and younger said they were
happy with their current professional life.
However, most of these unhappy employees never speak up, which leaves you in the dark about how satisfied your team members
are. There are several reasons employees keep their mouths shut. Some are timid or afraid of being judged for their opinions.
Others think communicating their concerns would be a waste of time because nothing would change. These employees vent to family,
friends, and sometimes even clients. And the problems at work continue.
Eventually this unhealthy communication takes a toll. Team members don't perform as well on the job and aren't as interested
in what they do or how well they do it. They tend to be slower and more careless. Plus, they're not pleasant to have around
your practice. In time, their negativity begins to affect everyone's morale—clients included.
ENCOURAGE TWO-WAY TALK
Effective management and motivation depend on good communication—downward and upward. Downward communication takes place when
you, the practice owner or manager, do the talking and the team listens. Upward communication is just the opposite: Team members
talk and you listen.
Upward communication gives you an opportunity to listen to your team members' concerns, ascertain their level of morale and
job satisfaction, and learn what changes need to happen to improve the situation. However, upward communication is only meaningful
if team members are sure you'll listen with an open mind. If your staff is concerned about job security or missing out on
future raises, they'll only say what you want to hear. And the problems will continue.
SURVEY YOUR TEAM
One way to initiate upward communication is to give your employees a survey to fill out (see related links below). The advantage:
Many people feel more comfortable expressing themselves anonymously on paper. Make sure team members know that their responses
will remain anonymous and that nothing they say (positive or negative) will come back to haunt them. This will greatly improve
your chances of getting truthful feedback from your veterinary team.
Will this survey open a can of worms and create more problems than it solves? In a word, no. Problems either exist at your
practice or they don't. Ignoring complaints won't make them go away. In fact, unresolved issues can lead to deep resentment
and even cause a perfectly capable team member to quit. That's why you should distribute the survey only if you're willing
to make the requested changes (within reason) to improve team members' job satisfaction and overall happiness.
Address the issues raised in the survey process at your monthly or weekly team meetings or during one-on-one discussions with
team members. Brainstorm ways to fix the problems. Then fix them. Soon after, you're sure to see an immediate uptick in employee
morale and productivity at your practice.
Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is the author of 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing, and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices (Jones and Bartlett, 2007).