Jobs report: Turnover at veterinary hospitals might worsen as economy improves, study says


Strategies to build employee engagement can help, veterinarians say.

National Report — The veterinary profession’s ability to absorb the annual influx of new graduates into the workplace is concerning enough, but now new concerns have arisen about whether business owners—including veterinarians—are being set up for a major employee turnover.

Throughout the recession, employees across all sectors have been happy just to have a job. But as the economy improves, employees who have grown more disenchanted in the workplace may be hard-pressed to find reasons to stay with their current employer, according to a new study. Some veterinary management experts predict the trend will be even worse for veterinary practice than most small businesses.

A new study by MetLife estimates that 34 percent of employees in small businesses would like to be working somewhere else by the end of 2011; a similar study by conducted by Harris Interactive offers a similar figure, stating that 38 percent of workers would like to find a new job within the next three years.“This year’s findings reveal a workplace that has grown more dissatisfied and disloyal, to the point where a startling one in three employees hopes to be working somewhere else in the next 12 months,” the MetLife report states. “Yet employers continue to believe employees are loyal, and they do not appear to be tuned in to this potential slight risk. Focused on the challenging business environment, employers remain confident of strong levels of jobs satisfaction and loyalty.”

In 2008, MetLife reported that 59 percent of workers felt loyal to their employer and 41 percent felt their employer was loyal to them. By 2010, those figures had dropped to 47 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Of employers, on the other hand, 57 percent felt a strong sense of loyalty to their employees in 2008, and 50 percent felt employees had a strong sense of loyalty to the company. Those numbers remain unchanged in 2010. Employers also reported from 2008 to 2010 that they believed workplace satisfaction has remained unchanged over the last few years.

”Forced into expense-control mode, perhaps it is not surprising that attention to employee satisfaction and retention was not top of mind for many employers. With a shrinking economy and fewer voluntary resignations, it seemed that employees were grateful just to have a job,” reports MetLife. “Feeling overworked and underappreciated, 40 percent of employees report they worked harder in the last 12 months, and 25 percent feel less secure in their jobs than they did a year ago … but what is disturbing is that employers seem unaware of this downward trend.”Fighting back

The veterinary profession has always had a problem with turnover, notes Robert Gribble, DVM, a practice-management consultant and owner of Hallville Veterinary Hospital in Hallville, Texas. A 2008 study by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) placed turnover in the veterinary profession at almost 30 percent—more than double the national average.

Broken down, that figure includes turnover rates of 20 percent for associate veterinarians, 13 percent for managers, 35 percent for technicians and 44 percent for other staff, with turnover rates reaching the highest in urban and mid-sized practices.

Production loss is the biggest cost of turnover for practice owners, because a good employee will make recommendations and help increase sales. Spending months training a new employee to do the same means that much time without those sales, Gribble says.

”You have to have a mindset that they are there making you money, not just taking up space,” he says.

Valuing employees and making them feel appreciated may be the most effective way of making sure employees stay put as job opportunities increase.

Many studies trumpet the fact that employees value appreciation above compensation, Gribble notes. Although showing appreciation may not be seen as a cost-cutting measure, it is one of the most effective, he adds.

“But a lot of Type-A personality veterinarians have trouble showing appreciation. You can have a very happy, very productive $12-an-hour employee that gets appreciation from their employers and coworkers, and you can have a $20-an-hour bitter, sour person that doesn’t get any appreciation. The $12 worker would probably be happy to stay,” he says. “It’s a veterinarian trait. We get in our minds that no one can do this as good as I can. It’s a pitfall, and it’s huge in the veterinary industry.”

Bill Kearley, DVM, MBA, a former practice owner who has worked in practice management consulting and coaching for the last 12 years, agrees.“How you’re treated and respected and how you’re valued in the practice is the most important thing—and it’s really the cheapest, just showing people respect and recognition,” he says.

Engagement is a buzzword these days in regard to employee retention, because engaged employees are given respect and opportunities to grow, Kearley says. And they contribute to the practice.

”Engaged employees really like where they work because they’re appreciated; they’re really connected,” he says. “Those employees stay put. There’s probably not any one thing that makes them feel engaged, but it’s everything about how they’re treated within that practice. There’s a lot of respect for them as a team member rather than just a staff member.”

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