Do you have what employees want?


Associates and support staff weigh in on the factors that attract them—and keep them on the job. Is your practice attractive to potential team members? (And is it equally attractive to potential buyers?)

Attracting and retaining talented, dedicated team members remains one of the biggest challenges listed by practice owners. How do you know whether your practice has what it takes to attract and retain quality staff members? Start by evaluating your practice by the qualities team members shop for.

In the AVMA-Pfizer Business Practices Study, conducted by Brakke Consulting Inc. in 2004, owners and associates listed high-quality medicine and surgery, initial compensation and benefits, and practice location as the three most-important qualities that would attract employees to a practice. (See Figure 1 for more.) So while issues such as respect and team camaraderie made the list—and may keep current staff members with you longer—they may not be the first things a new team member looks for.

figure 1 : These elements make a practice attractive to new employees

Are you building an environment that supports those elements that are attractive to employees? For example, do you reinvest in practice equipment regularly, hold ongoing continuing education meetings, and support team members' goals to develop new medical skills?

A look at the most—and least—attractive practices

Just as important, how well do you reward associates and support staff members who help you provide high-quality pet care? And what level of pay and benefits could potential employees get elsewhere?

Keeping great players around

The same elements that attract great employees also keep them around. Quality of medicine and regular pay increases topped the list when owners and associates were asked what they consider most important in retaining associates and support staff members in a practice. Respect and recognition followed close behind. (See Figure 2.)

figure 2 : Why team members stick around

And while you may think you're providing these benefits, it's team members' opinions on the issue that really count. So get their feedback and find out just where you stand.

For example, you can use exit interviews to find out why you're losing team members. Then, actively work to solve any problems or concerns that departing associates, managers, and support staff members raise.

Here's a tip: The answer to almost all problems lies in more and better communication. So offer written job descriptions; give clear, constructive, timely feedback; and provide written and oral annual performance reviews.

Written job descriptions help ensure that everyone's on the same page. In one step you've clearly outlined your expectations, and staff members know what they must accomplish to maintain their position. Clear job descriptions also protect workers from unexpected surprises—a common reason that employees leave within the first year.

Next, constructive, timely feedback helps everyone see when something's working well and when the train has jumped the track. Your employees desperately want to know where they stand—and they can't read your mind.

Keep in mind, you should probably spend more time patting people on the back for what they do right than you do correcting mistakes. So up the praise factor as much as you can, then don't avoid problems when they arise.

Finally, provide written and oral performance evaluations at least once a year. With each employee, talk about what he or she accomplished throughout the year and set goals for the future. And of course, reward people for their time and effort. Remember, regular salary increases ranked second on the list of reasons team members stay at a practice.

Your team is the lifeblood of your practice. And understandably, they want to practice high-quality medicine and be fairly compensated for all they do for you, your clients, and your patients. So work to recognize their efforts whenever you can.

Editor's note: Are you happy with your practice's qualities? Share your thoughts with other veterinarians and staff members online at

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