Keeping staff motivated and engaged is one of the biggest challenges a veterinary practice is faced with. Motivation is key for employee retention, engagement, and performance.
Contrary to popular belief, motivation is not a character trait that some employees have and others lack. While it’s true that some people are more internally driven than others, even the most hardworking employees can become unmotivated in the wrong work environment.
In veterinary medicine, our work can be emotionally draining and physically demanding. In the face of understaffing, increasing client demands, and health and safety concerns, it can be easy for staff to get burned out and unmotivated. It is up to veterinary practice leaders to create an environment where employees feel inspired and supported. And, although money is an important motivator, it’s not just about money. Simply put, a paycheck is not enough to bring out the best in your veterinary staff. Veterinary practice owners and managers can create a motivating work environment with proper training, development and advancement opportunities, to keep employees inspired, engaged and motivated to do their best work.
What is motivation? What do employees need to be motivated?
Employee Motivation Defined
Motivation is a willingness and desire to help an organization reach its goals. Motivated employees are highly engaged, provide superior customer service, and provide high quality patient care. They have the tools and the support they need, and they understand how their role contributes to the success of their organization. Highly motivated employees are your practice’s most valuable assets.
Motivating your employees begins with understanding their needs and goals. First, it is crucial to make sure your employees’ most basic and important needs are being met. This includes things like sufficient pay and benefits, a safe work environment, connections with coworkers, and supportive management. Without the tools they need to be successful, employees can easily feel their efforts are futile, and become unmotivated. So, begin by meeting these basic needs. Then, find out what motivates your employees to be their best.
What Motivates Your Veterinary Workforce
This conversation can begin during the recruitment and onboarding process. When interviewing prospective hires, ask questions that will help you learn about their values and motivators. Why did they choose a career in veterinary medicine? What makes them feel inspired to go above and beyond merely performing their job duties? Under what conditions do they do their best work? Continue these kinds of conversations throughout an employee’s tenure. Do they feel more motivated by a financial incentive like a bonus, or the opportunity to advance their career? Do they prefer public recognition or a private gesture of appreciation? Learning more about your employees’ goals and motivations will help you create a more engaging and inspiring work environment.
Bear in mind that motivation is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. What works for one team may not work for another. And, there can be significant differences among employees of different generations. For example, employees of the Baby Boomer generation are the most likely to stay with a single employer for many years, provided they have the opportunity to advance or take on greater authority. At the same time, Gen X and Millennial employees tend to value flexibility and work-life balance more than their predecessors. For Millennial and Gen Z employees, company culture and having a voice within their organizations are important for engagement.
7 Ways to Motivate Your Veterinary Staff
The best ways to motivate your team will depend on the unique needs of your staff and the size and composition of your practice. Here are some ways you can foster and improve motivation and morale among your veterinary employees.
1. Challenges and professional development
One of the top reasons employees become disengaged or leave their jobs is a lack of room to grow. If your employees experience stagnation and feel their careers are a dead-end, they can quickly become unmotivated. Allowing your team to learn new skills, engage in professional development, attend industry conferences, or pursue continuing education will not only enhance your veterinary staff but will also help keep them engaged and motivated on the job. Conduct regular performance reviews and use these as opportunities to praise employees’ strengths and establish goals for improvement or growth.
2. Opportunities for advancement
Similar to promoting growth, providing opportunities for career advancement gives your employees something to strive for. Employees who know they have the ability to climb the ladder or earn a promotion are more likely to go the extra mile and remain engaged at work. For this motivator to be effective, it is important that the path to advancement be clearly defined. Use annual, semi-annual, or quarterly performance reviews as an opportunity to learn more about your employees’ career goals. Then, make a plan with concrete steps and a clearly defined timeline for achieving them. Having a specific goal in mind can be a motivating factor itself.
3. Recognition and rewards
Employees crave recognition for their contributions to your practice’s success. People who feel their efforts are noticed and appreciated are more likely to remain engaged. Increase your employees’ motivation by showing appreciation for a job well done. This can be accomplished with verbal praise, public shout-outs in a newsletter or social media, or with financial or nonfinancial incentives. What’s important is that the recognition makes your team feel valued.
Financial incentives might include bonuses, raises, or paid time off. Nonfinancial incentives can be just as effective or even more effective. Examples of nonfinancial incentives can include private or public acknowledgement of an achievement or a job well done, especially in the face of challenging circumstances. You might treat your team to lunch, dinner, or even coffee and donuts to express your appreciation. However you choose to reward your team, be consistent in showing your appreciation or offering incentives to increase employees’ motivation.
4. Delegate responsibilities
When employees are being micromanaged, they lose the motivation to solve problems on their own. By delegating important tasks to your veterinary staff, you build a culture of trust and respect. When you give employees responsibility, autonomy, and the opportunity to lead, they are more likely to be motivated and take ownership of their work.
5. Sense of purpose
One of the keys to motivation is connecting to your employees’ internal sense of purpose. When employees can understand and internalize the reason for their work, they will become more motivated to do their best. Establish clear performance goals so employees know what they’re working toward and how their success will be measured. But also emphasize the mission and purpose of your practice, and how each employee’s role helps to advance the organizational mission. Your mission statement should align with the values and goals of the people you hire.
Most of our veterinary staff come to this career field because they love animals. Appeal to that passion by highlighting the ways your employees make a difference in the lives of your clients and their beloved pets. You might circulate a client review or feedback, or share the news of a positive patient outcome from the previous week. However you choose to share these messages, remind your staff that what they do every day makes a difference.
That connection between the “what” and the “why” of your veterinary practice will nurture your staff’s sense of purpose. When your employees’ personal and professional goals align with the mission and goals of your practice, the business is poised to thrive. Furthermore, a clearly established mission and set of goals will help to unite your employees around a common objective to make that vision a reality.
6. Promote work-life balance
Employees who are overworked will burn out and lose motivation quickly. Even high-performing workers will become vulnerable to attrition without necessary downtime from their jobs. Furthermore, it is difficult for employees to feel motivated to work for an employer they don’t feel respected by.
Encourage employees to take their paid time off and to take regular breaks during the work day. Allow flexible schedules when possible. If your clinic offers emergency services, your hours might not be limited to a traditional office schedule. You may consider incentivising employees to fill night or weekend shifts by offering a modest increase in compensation or a bonus during those hours, or offering flex time in exchange for these less desirable shifts.
A healthy workplace culture where engagement and motivation thrive starts with effective communication. Deliver transparent, timely updates about changes to policies or procedures so everyone on your team is informed. Hold regular team meetings where employees can raise concerns, ask questions, clarify expectations, and establish goals.
It is crucial to remember that communication is a two-way street. Seeking feedback from your team about their experience at work and about the day to day operations of your practice gives them a voice. On the other hand, if employees feel their concerns are brushed off and their suggestions ignored, they lose the motivation to make your organization the best it can be. When employees feel that their voices matter and that their managers value their input, they are more likely to remain motivated and engaged. Your best employees can offer critical insights and even help you develop ways to improve the business when they are empowered to speak up.