Veterinary technicians and support staff are crucial to any veterinary practice. They keep our clinics and hospitals running, and make a difference in the lives of pets and their parents every day. Unfortunately, the veterinary space is prone to high rates of employee burnout and turnover.
Employee retention is one of the most urgent issues for all employers, and that includes veterinary practices. It’s a trend exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic: employees are burned out, unsatisfied, and on the lookout for better opportunities. The veterinary clinics that will thrive are the ones that take action to support their employees, improve their culture, and retain the best talent to provide safe, competent care.
While low morale and high turnover can affect all employers, consider the challenges unique to veterinary practices. Vet clinic employees are, generally speaking, compassionate individuals who chose this line of work because of their love for animals. But the work can also be physically and emotionally demanding. Vet techs spend a lot of time interfacing with worried, frustrated, or grieving pet parents. They bear the heavy emotional burden when an animal cannot be saved. They spend hours on their feet, and often work long shifts amid nationwide staffing shortages. After some time, it can take a toll.
Why veterinary staff leave their jobs
The covid-19 pandemic has intensified many of these pressures. The rise in pet ownership over the last two years, especially among first-time pet owners fueled a surge in demand for veterinary services. At the same time, vet clinics have had to cut their hours and limit their services to accommodate staffing issues, health and safety concerns, and other complications.
The biggest issues in the veterinary space related to employee morale include:
- Low pay
- Overwork, understaffing
- Compassion fatigue
- Poor management
- Clinic culture
- Lack of growth opportunities
4 Tips to keep your veterinary staff happy and healthy
Here are some of the ways you can support the people who keep your clinic running.
Pay and benefits are at the top of the list of reasons employees seek other opportunities, especially when work becomes more demanding. If it’s possible for your practice, an increase in compensation, regular bonuses, or improved benefits like paid time off can actually save you money in the long run by avoiding the cost of recruiting and training new staff. Of course, offering an increase in pay is not always possible. It’s important to know that compensation is not the only factor that contributes to turnover, and many employees would choose to stay with their current employer under the right conditions, even without an increase in pay. Likewise, a pay raise often is not enough to compensate for bad culture and low morale. There are several things you can do to improve your employees’ experience and inspire them to stay.
It is crucial that recognition and appreciation be expressed in meaningful ways. Bringing in lunch or coffee for your employees is a nice gesture, but will it make your team feel truly valued? People express and experience gratitude in different ways, so find out what would make your employees feel appreciated. Some might respond well to public recognition, while others prefer a private acknowledgment of their efforts. Still others might value free time and work-life balance above a bonus or an award.
Recognition doesn’t always have to come from the top down, either. Implementing a system wherein employees can recognize their peers for a job well done or a helping hand can go a long way toward building a strong team.
The purpose of taking the time to recognize the contributions of your staff is to show that their efforts are being noticed and appreciated. Celebrate your employees’ individual strengths, accomplishments, and contributions to the lives of animals and their owners.
Communicate with your team frequently about their needs, how they view the clinic culture, and what makes them feel appreciated. Don’t assume you know what they’re thinking. Seeking feedback from your staff will not only help you make more informed decisions, but will also send the message to your team that you value their input. When employees feel that their voices are heard and valued, they are more likely to remain in their roles.
Your communication strategy should also give you the opportunity to discover individual challenges or mental health problems your employees are facing in their jobs. Veterinary work can be stressful, emotionally taxing, and even lead to serious issues like depression. What’s more, many people don’t seek the help they need. Listen to your employees, give them space to talk about what they are experiencing, and refer them to resources as necessary.
Also, when it comes to communication, consistency is key. If you make a plan to have regular check-ins with your staff and that plan falls apart after a month or two, the potential benefits are lost. Committing to regular, frequent meetings or discussions will show your team that communication is a priority, and that they can count on their manager to fulfill their promises.
Many employees leave their positions when they feel stuck in a position without room to grow. Talk with your employees about their interests and goals, and develop opportunities for them to grow their skill set. Professional development might mean promotion to a position with more responsibility, learning different special skills, or continuing education. When employers invest in their employees’ potential, both parties benefit.
Another way to support your veterinary staff is to give them the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently. Getting bogged down in busywork and cumbersome workflows can be discouraging and contribute to burnout. Investing in the right software and technology can help with tasks such as online scheduling, automated appointment reminders, prescription management, and more. Utilizing technology effectively will not only make your employees’ lives easier, but will also show that you value their time and their talents.