Veterinary technicians are an integral part of our veterinary practices. But, the role of veterinary technician is emotionally and physically demanding, and prone to burnout and turnover. Vet tech retention and turnover is one of the biggest challenges for practice owners today.
Let’s look at some of the top reasons vet techs leave their jobs for other clinics, and steps you can take as a practice owner to encourage them to stay.
Why Vet Techs Leave Their Jobs
Veterinary medicine is a field with high turnover, particularly among our technicians. The vet tech turnover rate is reported to range between 23 and 50%, much higher than the national average. Turnover is an expensive problem; not only does recruiting,hiring, and training new staff take valuable time, but it can also come with a cost of up to $10,000 to replace a single staff member. On the flip side, satisfied, highly engaged employees are our most valuable assets. They are more productive, and provide better customer service than dissatisfied employees. Motivating and supporting our vet techs isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for the bottom line.
By and large, vet techs are hardworking individuals who are passionate about helping animals. So why are so many of them leaving in droves for other opportunities? Here are some of the top reasons vet techs experience job dissatisfaction.
It’s no surprise that one of the top concerns for veterinary staff is pay and benefits.
In many places, vet techs are sorely underpaid for the work they do. No matter how dedicated a vet tech is to their job, they have an obligation to make the best financial decisions for themselves and their families. With staffing shortages nationwide, compensation packages are growing more competitive. So, if a vet tech can find a much better-paying position at another clinic or hospital, they’re likely to be tempted to take it.
A 2017 study by the AVMA found that up to 49% of veterinary professionals experience moderate to severe burnout at work. The intense pressures created by the covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this problem. The pandemic saw an increase in first-time pet ownership and thus an increase in demand for veterinary services. Simultaneously, restrictions put in place amid health and safety concerns created additional stress for clients and staff alike. Staffing shortages have contributed to overwork in clinics nationwide.
Veterinary technicians’ jobs can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. Vet techs spend long hours on their feet doing physically demanding tasks like bending, lifting, and restraining animals. Of course, the mental and emotional toll of veterinary medicine can be as draining as the physical. A major source of burnout in the veterinary field is compassion fatigue. Vet techs deal directly with pet owners who are worried, grieving, stressed, or even angry. The hard truth is that no matter how well we do our jobs, not every animal who comes through our doors will have a positive outcome. This can weigh heavily on those of us who love animals and feel deep sympathy with their owners. The very compassion that makes us great caregivers can also wear us down over time.
As in any other field of work, a toxic workplace culture can deplete morale and lead to turnover in your veterinary practice. From poor management to weak communication, there are many things that can make a culture toxic. If staff aren’t appreciated, respected, supported, listened to, or if bad behavior goes unaddressed, good employees will quickly start eyeing the exits.
Another aspect of clinic culture that can lead to turnover is underutilization. While overwork can be a problem, underutilization can be just as harmful. Many vet techs report feeling micromanaged or undervalued, as doctors insist on performing tasks their techs are trained to perform.
Lack of Growth Opportunities
Along with underutilization, a lack of professional growth can be detrimental to employee motivation. When employees see no opportunities to advance their careers or learn new skills, they may seek those opportunities elsewhere.
How to Prevent Vet Tech Turnover
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent vet tech turnover in your practice.
It should go without saying that paying your vet techs a living wage is a must. Investing in your people can actually save your practice money in the long run by avoiding costly turnover and lost productivity. Even if significant raises are not possible within your practice, you might consider other financial incentives like a bonus structure, scheduled modest raises, and regular salary reviews. At the same time, employee satisfaction is not all about money. In fact, a pay raise is often not enough to compensate for an unsatisfying work environment. Non-economic incentives like flexible schedules and a supportive culture can go a long way toward retaining your best employees.
You can help your employees remain engaged and avoid burnout at work. One of the best ways to do this is to prioritze work-life balance. Encourage employees to take their paid time off and enforce regular breaks. Allow flexible schedules when possible, or offer extra pay or extra time off in exchange for taking weekend or irregular shifts. Examine your staffing patterns to see if labor can be better allocated during busy times and avoid both understaffing and overtime.
To help your vet techs cope with compassion fatigue, provide access to resources like mental health counselors to help with emotional toll of the work.
Cultivating a healthy workplace culture is one of the best ways to create a positive employee experience and reduce turnover. A healthy culture is characterized by effective communication, mutual respect, psychological safety, and ownership of organizational goals. Vet clinics with healthy work environments enjoy better employee retention and better patient outcomes.
There are many elements that make up a company culture, but it all starts with leadership. As the leader of your practice, you can model the behaviors and values you wish to see from your staff in order to cultivate a healthy work environment. One of the hallmarks of a toxic work culture is persistent negativity. While negativity can spread like wildfire, you can help quash complaining and gossiping by setting an example: keep your language and conduct respectful at all times, and never trash talk staff or clients.
Employees – especially the best performing employees – will leave a workplace where they do not feel appreciated or recognized for their contributions. Vet techs are a crucial part of any veterinary team; they perform lifesaving care and keep our clinics running smoothly every day. It is important to explicitly show your vet techs that their efforts are noticed and appreciated. Start by speaking with your team about what would make them feel valued – whether that be treating them to lunch, giving a bonus, or being honored in front of their peers. Then, make sure you follow through on a consistent basis.
Toxic cultures are characterized by fear and a lack of accountability. Foster psychological safety by modeling accountability with your staff. If practice leaders can own up to their mistakes, your employees will be more likely to do so and more likely to stay in their jobs. At the same time, be sure to enforce policies and rules consistently. Nothing is more demoralizing for a good employee than to see their coworkers’ poor behavior go unaddressed.
At the core of any healthy workplace is effective communication. If employees don’t feel that they have a voice at work, they are more likely to become disengaged and eventually leave. Likewise, if your staff don’t have clear, consistent communication from management or don’t have the information they need to do their jobs effectively, they can quickly become unmotivated. Hold regular team meetings to share any relevant updates and seek feedback from your staff. Use these meetings as a forum where employees can voice concerns and propose ideas about how to improve day-to-day operations at your clinic.
No one wants to feel that their career is at a dead end. Employees who feel they have no room to grow at your practice may look for opportunities elsewhere. On the other hand, giving your employees the chance to learn new skills, or earn a promotion will be more motivated and engaged. Offer professional development, skills training, the opportunity to attend industry conferences and seminars, and opportunities for promotion.
Vet tech turnover is a serious challenge, but there are steps you can take to combat it. Ultimately the best course of action for your practice will depend on the unique needs of your people. If you think your practice has a turnover problem, start by listening to your staff. Take some time to seek their feedback and find out what is most important to them, what could be improved, and what would motivate them to stay in their positions.
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