Three proven strategies that go beyond monetary rewards and ignite a passionate and dedicated team
Written By: Dr. Ernie Ward, Chief Veterinary Officer.
I hate to break it to you, but at some point in your business career, you will run out of money, benefits, and promotions to incentivize your employees.
But you always have ideas.
Retaining the best staff is a constant concern for all businesses, regardless of industry, size, or economic conditions. Over the past five years, the veterinary profession has witnessed unprecedented competition and demand for the most skilled individuals. Outside forces fueled by venture capital and massive advertising campaigns have lured away many of the best employees of small, independent clinics. Those remaining are bombarded by emails, social media posts, and phone calls pledging bigger pay, better environments, and plenty of support.
I’m not going to lie. It’s tough to compete against those promises. And if I’m honest, employees deserve them.
But enjoying and remaining at a job takes more than a paycheck. To compete with a larger rival, you must match the financial offers as closely as possible and beat them on non-cash incentives.
Retention isn’t just about salaries. For true staying power, there is much more you can - and should - do. Non-cash incentives are essential to motivate team members to remain with you. The art of incentivizing is much more than gifting people with additional pay and perks. To keep your best employees, engage in their feelings about work, career, and needs.
1. Be a better leader
When I began interviewing and hiring employees as a fresh practice owner in my mid-to-late twenties, I quickly recognized that the people applying for a position didn’t leave a bad job; they left a bad boss. I vowed not to be “that guy.”
I committed to better understanding how to train, reward, and inspire the folks sharing my workplace. I learned from books, seminars (I had breakfast with Zig Ziglar!), and my new hires' stories. In other words, I analyzed how to be a better leader.
Capable managers and leaders can make all the difference when it comes to keeping good employees. When a day starts to sink, they have the awareness and skills to turn it around. An adept business leader is attuned to their team’s attitudes and emotions and senses shifts before things spiral out of control.
I wish being an effective leader was a simple, one-size-fits-all venture. The best leaders wear a variety of hats, embody multiple roles, and seamlessly switch from one to another based on need.
And they must genuinely care, be concerned, and convey compassion.
Being a better leader isn’t easy, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m never satisfied with my abilities. The best leaders never believe “they've got it,” or stop seeking improvement. They surround themselves with research, ideas and iterate based on their situation.
If you want to retain the best employees, start by becoming a better leader. Read books, talk to people you admire, and create a network to help you develop your skills and recognize your blind spots. VerticalVet’s Peer Groups are an excellent platform to connect and elevate your abilities.
The labyrinthine bureaucracy of corporate structures often dilutes their emphasis on developing local leaders instead of constructing executives.
To retain your best employees, tap into your superpower of inspiring and guiding them.
2. Encourage autonomy and be flexible
Training and development is millennial employees' most valued work benefit, followed closely by flexible hours. In a 2021 survey, 94% reported they would stay at a company longer if they felt the employer was investing in their career development. Structured training and mentorship are essential to retain your best team members.
Prioritizing work-life balance can also keep employees happy. Offering flexible work schedules and accommodating personal life demands are critical to keeping your best team members from looking elsewhere.
Another time-tested non-cash incentive is encouraging autonomy through training and allowing staff to have a say in their work. One of the best benefits you can provide to your employees is the opportunity to make a difference through their work and help guide the practice’s course. Providing clear and frequent staff communication on business happenings, direction, and big-picture practice objectives and goals can make all the difference in employee happiness.
Top veterinary employers create an environment where their team members feel connected to the organization and have a positive work experience that’s part of a rich, fulfilling life.
3. Focus on well-being
I can’t talk about leadership without emphasizing personal well-being. In addition to the usual suspects of helping your team with health, diet, sleep, and exercise, I’d also like to encourage you to look at work expectations, feedback and evaluation mechanisms, work environments, ergonomics, and infrastructure efficiencies. Too often, we hear “well-being” and forget that “being” includes your surroundings.
When people feel undervalued, overburdened, and unsupported, they often look for a new job. Listen, observe, and connect with the issues your employees think need changing. Frequently, improper or inadequate equipment, lack of training, or failure to recognize efforts and achievements can cause chronic frustrations, weaken resiliency, and lead to quitting.
Allocate work based on your employee’s strengths, not their weaknesses. Train areas of shortcomings and provide ample feedback. Performance evaluations every three to six months are optimal for new employees and every six to twelve months for seasoned staff.
Strive to create an adaptable and supportive work environment with strong interpersonal communication, working with the highs and lows and unexpected events to build team confidence and a sense of achievement. The end of the work week should be a collective triumph, not an excruciating crawl to the finish line.
The veterinary profession continues to experience rapid change and challenges. With rising corporate ownership and consolidation, the case for employee retention becomes urgent for independent clinics. The employee incentives we choose reveal what we value, our motivations, and our vision.
Take the time this week to critically evaluate your existing staff wages, benefits, and non-cash incentives. You may discover a wealth of non-cash incentives can help boost team morale, productivity, and retention.
Here’s to keeping the best folks on your team,
Dr. Ernie Ward
Chief Veterinary Officer, VerticalVet