How to improve employee retention in 4 easy steps
Employee turnover is a constant struggle in veterinary medicine. In fact, the American Animal Hospital Association’s 2020 Compensation and Benefits Study estimates that the average turnover in veterinary practices is 23% per year.1 That means that in a small animal practice, employing eight to twelve individuals, two or three of those team members are likely to leave before the end of the year!
While this number may seem high at first glance, it’s also helpful to compare veterinary turnover to other professions. A 2016 study of over 30,000 organizations in a variety of fields found that the average employee turnover across all industries is 17.8%, with human healthcare experiencing a total turnover of 19.9%.2 These numbers suggest that veterinary medicine has an above-average employee turnover rate compared to other industries, as well as having an even higher turnover rate than the human medical field.
Negative Impacts of Employee Turnover
Employee turnover can have a number of negative impacts on your practice. Losing a valuable employee can obviously affect your practice’s bottom line, but also may impact your overall work environment. In many veterinary practices, each team member makes a unique contribution to the practice. Losing any one individual can affect the entire team’s efficiency, as well as the job satisfaction of other employees.
When you lose an employee, there is an obvious financial cost. First, you probably will pay to run an advertisement or use a recruiter in your search for a new hire. In the best-case scenario, resumes and applications will immediately begin rolling in, but you will still need to invest time into screening applicants, conducting interviews, and introducing candidates to your practice. Once you select the best candidate, you may need to wait two weeks or more before that employee is available to start work. Then, there’s hire paperwork, orientation, training, etc. Depending on your new hire’s prior experience and their intended role in your workplace, it may be weeks or even months before they can perform their job as effectively as the employee that they replaced.
What if that “best-case scenario” doesn’t play out for you? In the current job market, it may take some time to fill an open position. This may force you to operate shorthanded, influencing your practice’s financial productivity and limiting your ability to meet the needs of your clients and patients. You may need to pay a relief employee to come in and temporarily fill your role. Regardless of which approach you take, a delay in finding a new employee can affect the health of your patients, the satisfaction of your clients, the work-life of your existing employees, and the financial well-being of your practice.
How Can You Reduce Employee Turnover?
It’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate employee turnover. You will always have employees who are relocating for reasons beyond their control or changing professional goals. Additionally, you may occasionally have employees who need to be terminated for poor work performance.
While eliminating turnover completely is not a reasonable goal, you should aim to decrease employee turnover as much as possible. In order to do that, you will need to create a workplace that employees do not want to leave.
Obviously, it’s impossible to make work a pleasure every single day. We deal with difficult clients, aggressive patients, and exhausting days that can challenge any team member. However, there are some things you can do to increase employee satisfaction.
1. Create a Culture of Appreciation
In a 2017 survey, 66% of employees stated that they would leave their job if they did not feel appreciated or valued.3 That number jumps to 76% among millennials, meaning that appreciation is an even more valuable motivator for younger employees!
Many practices utilize free lunches and snacks as a way to show appreciation for their team members. While those gestures can certainly be appreciated, human nature means that we often begin to take them for granted over time. Instead, consider these alternative approaches to showing your appreciation.
- Give each employee a heartfelt word of thanks at the end of a busy day.
- Use handwritten thank you notes to recognize an employee who goes above and beyond.
- Talk up your employees to your clients.
- Encourage clients to compliment your employees, through the use of client feedback forms.
- Plan team-building events outside of work. (Encourage employees to bring their family, so the event feels more like fun and less like work!)
If your employees feel appreciated, they are less likely to leave in search of greener pastures. Take the time to find out what makes your employees tick and how you can show appreciation for them, so they know they are not taken for granted at work.
2. Encourage Employee Development
In most cases, employees want to be challenged. And yet, in many veterinary practices across the country, credentialed veterinary technicians find themselves working as glorified veterinary assistants. If your technicians are restraining pets while you place intravenous catheters, for example, they are not utilizing the skills that they worked so hard to obtain. Ensure that you are encouraging all of your employees to challenge themselves and work to their maximum ability. (As an additional perk, leveraging your staff will help increase your hospital productivity!)
Provide continuing education opportunities for your employees. You probably already offer a continuing education allowance for your credentialed veterinary technicians and associate veterinarians, but consider offering similar opportunities for veterinary assistants, kennel assistants, and receptionists. This can directly benefit you by improving the level of patient care that these employees can provide, while also increasing your employees’ satisfaction and improving employee retention.
3. Manage Workplace Conflict
After fifteen years of working in various veterinary practices, I feel comfortable saying that a relatively high percentage of veterinary practices have some degree of workplace drama. Many practices have that one longtime veterinary technician around whom everyone must walk on eggshells because that individual is known for bullying behavior but never seems to be reprimanded. Other practices have separate cliques within the hospital, based on roles (front vs. back), when employees were hired (the “originals” vs. the new employees), or other factors.
As an owner or practice manager, you must play an active role in identifying and addressing workplace conflict and bullying. Examine your own behavior first; make sure that your behaviors in the hospital could not be construed as bullying or favoritism. Next, develop and enact a no-tolerance policy for bullying among your staff.
Far too many practice leaders keep a bully around because they are productive, loyal to the owner, or beloved by the clients. This decision can come at a high cost. The cost of employee turnover associated with a workplace bully may be far higher than the costs you would incur by parting ways with this problematic individual.
4. Evaluate Your Pay Scales
When it comes to remaining in a job, money isn’t everything. In fact, many employees rank recognition and other intangible benefits as more important than pay. However, the veterinary profession is a notoriously low-paid field and it is hard for employees to remain in a position that cannot support them financially.
Evaluate your compensation (including benefits) and ensure that it is competitive with other workplaces in your region. Don’t just compare your hourly pay rate with that of other local veterinary practices; take some time to investigate what hourly rate your employees could earn by working in retail or food service. While it’s true that there are many non-financial benefits to working in a veterinary practice, those intangible benefits don’t help employees pay their rent or put food on their tables. If you want to attract quality employees, you need to pay a high enough wage to be competitive. This may mean increasing your prices or making other adjustments to increase your practice’s efficiency, but it’s important to ensure that you can pay your clients a fair wage.
Consider the Cost
When considering topics such as staff appreciation, continuing education, addressing workplace bullies, and increasing wages, it’s only natural to consider the costs associated with these measures. At the same time, however, it’s important to consider the costs associated with not implementing these measures. Can you afford to replace two or three of your employees each year, with all of the downtime, expense, and effort that entails? In the current business climate, neglecting employee retention may be a good example of that old cliche “penny wise, pound foolish.”
- Rose, R. (2021). Does your practice have a turnover problem? AAHA NEWStat. Retrieved from: https://www.aaha.org/publications/newstat/articles/2021-04/does-your-practice-have-a-turnover-problem/
- Bares, A. (2016). 2016 Turnover Rates by Industry. Compensation Force. Retrieved from: https://www.compensationforce.com/2017/04/2016-turnover-rates-by-industry.html
- Lipman, V. (2017). 66% Of Employees Would Quit If They Feel Unappreciated. Forbes. Retrieved from: forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2017/04/15/66-of-employees-would-quit-if-they-feel-unappreciated/?sh=5d3092266897