Are disengaged employees a plague in your hospital?
Oriana Scislowicz, LVT, PHR, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.
Happy employees, happy veterinary practice. Here are some ways to establish high levels of employee engagement within your company culture.
What does an engaged employee look like?
An engaged employee will go above and beyond regular duties and be invested in the hospital and its mission. These employees are rarely complacent when it comes to business development-there's always a way to do things better and enhance the level of service. These individuals genuinely enjoy putting their best work forth and look forward to partaking in the success of the business. This only happens when these employees are trusted, empowered, appreciated and have clearly defined goals and roles within the organization.
While I consider myself lucky to have worked with several, highly engaged individuals during my career, one tech particularly sticks out in my memory. When she'd come in, she'd set everything up for the day. She excelled at anticipating client needs. Estimates were always done before the doctor was even out of the room, and supplies for procedures were carefully organized at the beginning of an appointment if she anticipated the doctor would need them. She was also very in tune with the entire team's needs and would come to the rescue of anyone who was falling behind. Lastly, and most importantly, no matter what she was dealing with in her own life or how her day was going, she always had a huge smile on her face and a great attitude. Having this level of reliability, preparedness and positivity did wonders for morale.
What does a disengaged employee look like?
One of the first signs of a disengaged employee is absenteeism and tardiness, which was certainly the case for the most disengaged individual I have worked with. This assistant would come in late almost every day, despite attempts to adjust her schedule and find ways to get her attendance back on track. Not only was she consistently late, but when she did arrive she came in as if auditioning for the role of Eeyore. All day, she moved slowly and moped around, counting the minutes until her shift was over. She did the bare minimum, never checked her work and never offered to help others. Anytime someone would try to coach this individual, instead of taking accountability, she would provide a mound of excuses.
How do you check for engagement?
Cultivating and maintaining engaged employees takes a lot of hard work from managers. For starters, conduct engagement assessments for current employees. Continue to do different assessments on a semi-annual basis (at least) to maintain a highly engaged team.
Anonymous surveys with quantitative and qualitative questions are a good starting place for judging veterinary team member engagement. Qualitative questions should revolve around how valued employees feel: Do they feel overworked? Do they feel recognized for their efforts? Do they identify with the company's values? It may also be beneficial to ask whether they feel they have friends within the workplace.
Surveys could also start with a quantitative question, such as, “How often are you recognized for your hard work?” You can then follow this with a qualitative question to shed more light on an employee's feelings on the subject, such as, “In what ways would you like your supervisors to recognize your achievements?”
It's important to regularly evaluate engagement, as infrequently acquired data will make it difficult to determine trends or focus areas of employee issues. Consistent evaluation also builds stronger leaders, as management will have a better pulse on employee concerns and be able to take more effective action. Keep in mind, though, that asking these questions and not taking action on any of the answers is more damaging than not surveying at all. If you're requesting that employees take time out of their day to answer a survey, show them that you're using the information to improve their work lives.
Need help getting started? Click here for a sample survey.
You can also get feedback in person with face-to-face check-ins. Include engagement questions in these regular meetings.
If you aren't having quarterly (at minimum) individual meetings with employees, start now! The best part of getting feedback firsthand is you can ask additional questions and get more detailed insights. Employees will be more honest during these check-ins if they're frequent and you avoid responding to tough feedback in a defensive or blasé manner. Employees need to see managers exhibit empathy and concern just as much as they need to see them take action.
How do you improve engagement?
Disengaged team members can come around. Employees' engagement levels tend to fluctuate throughout their careers. This is completely normal, even in organizations with supportive and positive leadership. A disengaged employee is not a lost cause.
To re-engage employees, show them you're interested in their feedback and want to make things better. Listen and ask for their thoughts on current operations or recent changes. Don't focus on profit and key performance indicators. Those are important, but when these numbers are overemphasized by managers, employees can become frustrated and feel overworked and undervalued.
Up your reward game. Motivation assessments allow supervisors to know the best way to recognize individual efforts. When I check in on a disengaged employee, I dig deep to find their own personal motivators (money, getting out on time, promotion, etc.) and find a way to connect more positive behavior to being able to achieve those goals. Doing so raises the stakes on their performance, causing them to be more eager to work towards improvement.
Disengaged employees can also benefit from being looped in on the strategic plans and direction of the veterinary practice. This helps team members understand how they fit into the big picture. Remember to include the good with the bad news when it comes to the company's progress as successes will help lift them up and failures being made public and not ignored will help them feel in-the-know.
Take a look at the schedules of disengaged employees-are they still happy with their hours? Long-standing schedules that don't work for people's changing lives can commonly result in disengagement, and flexibility on your end can make a huge difference.
Unfortunately, there are times that despite how you approach the situation and no matter what kind of inspirational coaching you try to provide, the employee remains slumped in their chair, not even making eye contact. In those cases, I outline the expectations of the position and explain that we need to see improvement or more serious disciplinary measures will need to come into play.
Creating a culture of engagement
Employee engagement needs to be part of the organization's culture. The employee involvement, managerial leadership and company values all contribute to employee engagement.
When employees are given a voice and seen as problem-solvers, they are much more likely to be engaged. Team members want to feel involved and listened to, and want to be a part of the company's growth and decisions. Learn more about team members' interests and goals, and try to accommodate for these as much as possible. Any way to diversify the work is also appreciated by employees. Grow employees into roles and hire from within whenever possible. When employees see opportunity for growth within the organization, they are less likely to feel stagnant and disengaged.
Ori Scislowicz is a team leader LVT at CVCA - Cardiac Care for Pets in Richmond, Virginia.