I remember when I started my practice over 20 years ago that I was surprised and intrigued by certain employment policies that I heard some of the newer “corporate” practices, as well as many smaller practices had implemented.
I remember when I started my practice over 20 years ago that I was surprised and intrigued by certain employment policies that I heard some of the newer "corporate" practices, as well as many smaller practices had implemented. One policy in particular that, at the time, I found amusing was that employees were not allowed to become romantically "involved" with one another, and it was even discouraged for employees to socialize with each other outside of the hospital. Personally, I found that to be too restrictive, and even wondered about the legal ramifications. Also, since so many of my own employees were already friends who came to me from each other's recommendations, it would have been very hard for me to enforce a policy stating they couldn't fraternize with each other outside of the hospital. Plus, I liked the fact that they all got along so well as it kept the spirit around the practice upbeat.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the employee's inter-personal "like-affairs" to become challenged, and with that the advent of even more issues than I bargained for as a new practice owner. I was amazed just how petty people could be, and how sensitive their fragile egos were. I knew from my first job as an employee veterinarian how I needed to sharpen my skills in the art of conflict resolution to deal with the many client issues and problems which often occur in practice, but I honestly didn't think that I'd be using those same skills to deal with my employee issues as well. My practice has now grown to a 4 doctor practice, which is great, but sadly, having 3 occasionally quarreling associates, who have sometimes given new meaning to the term "cat-fight," I've found myself dealing with petty issues between them as well. The truth is, the larger the practice, the larger the staff, hopefully, the larger the revenues, but definitely the larger the headaches!
I'm sure the issues I encounter are nothing new, but for humor's sake, I'd like to go over some of our frontrunners. As far employees, problems arise around issues of scheduling, responsibilities, advancement, and, of course, raises. Don't kid yourselves—your employees all know (or have a pretty good idea) of what their co-workers make. I've seen many a "friendship" turn sour because of these issues. How often have we taken a kennel person who has shown promise and started to train them to become a technician assistant, and then, depending on how talented they are and how quickly they learn, try them as a technician. Now, all of a sudden, his or her former co-workers become resentful—especially if they think they could do the job even better. Or, simply taking one of the kennel or technical staff and promoting him or her to a manager can create animosity and problems. What's even worse is having to deal with cultural issues—specifically Latin men suddenly having to answer to a Latin woman!! Don't ask why, but I've seen this create problems many times! When employees are friends outside of work, there are always the personal issues which arise which can affect the chemistry and teamwork at the practice.
With employee veterinarians, the problems can be just as petty. Probably the most significant issues revolve around cases, schedules, and, of course, salary. How is seniority in a practice determined? Does one consider length of time at the current practice, or the number of years spent as a practicing veterinarian? What criteria do employers use to determine success and advancement potential? Do we use total length of employment as our main gauge, or production and other intangibles such client and employee feedback? The key is, regardless of how these are evaluated, there is a good chance that someone will be unhappy! I am a firm believer in production-based salary, and offer my associates a minimal base, basically to give them some piece of mind and a little sense of security, then offer a production-based bonus. Though this seems to have become a popular compensation program—actually many hospitals have done away with base salaries, and only offer production-based compensation—there seem to be some inherent problems associated with this. What I've witnessed are doctors selecting cases based on ultimate earning potential, instead of priority. So if two clients are put into exam rooms at the same time, one, a first time client with a healthy puppy, who came in first and who should be seen first, and the other an older dog with a 3 day history of vomiting and diarrhea, which will obviously need a significant work up, and the next available doctor looks at both files and rushes in to take the second client before the first, leaving the easy new puppy exam to the other associate. I HATE that!! But, it does, so I understand, happen everywhere.
Whether your problems are identical, or similar, they all really disrupt the smooth and efficient functioning of our practices—which often leads to much frustration with other team members, and, of course, with our clients. First and foremost, our team members, including our doctors, need to grow up. Our patients, our clients, and our hospitals need to be the number one priority. Any baggage and petty, nonsensical differences or arguments between employees need to be left at home—and this needs to be a firm policy and understood by all! Obviously, resolution is the ultimate goal, and the principles of resolving these conflicts are the same as any others, and start with—you got it—communication.
When faced these issues, try to attack them before they explode, and probably best to do so in the staff meeting forum keeping the situation very general. Try to divert attention away from the involved parties, and handle the situation in more broad terms. Trust me, the involved culprits know who they are, and this subtle approach is often all that is needed to get things back on track. If, or when, this doesn't seem to take care of the problem, a more private meeting with the involved individuals is in order. The involved individuals need to be confronted and need to be aware of the consequences of not cooperating and behaving in a manner consistent with the professionalism required of hospital team members. They must work out their issues and get back to productive work, or need to learn to keep their differences at home and behave as adults while in the office. We've all had our days when things aren't going right and we feel emotionally miserable, yet we can't share those emotions with our staff or our clients. Our employees need to develop those same skills for the benefit of the practice, and we need to help them whenever possible.
So, what do I now think of those crazy policies prohibiting team members from dating each other or socializing outside of the practice? Well, they may not be so crazy after all! But, they are too restrictive for my liking. I have a great staff with a lot of energy, and who, for the most part, get along great with each other, and do enjoy each other's company after hours as well. Though, over the years, some have had issues to deal with, which could have been disruptive, they've always seemed to work things out without causing any friction within the practice. For me, the positive effects of having a crew that truly like and respect one another, and work very well together as a team, outweigh the negatives which may occur from an occasional discord.
What will work best for your practice? The answer has a lot to do with your current staff, the types of problems you are currently experiencing, their existing inter-personal relationships, and their willingness to behave in such a manner which puts the interests of the hospital first and foremost.