• One Health
  • Pain Management
  • Oncology
  • Geriatric & Palliative Medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Anatomic Pathology
  • Poultry Medicine
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Dermatology
  • Theriogenology
  • Nutrition
  • Animal Welfare
  • Radiology
  • Internal Medicine
  • Small Ruminant
  • Cardiology
  • Dentistry
  • Feline Medicine
  • Soft Tissue Surgery
  • Urology/Nephrology
  • Avian & Exotic
  • Preventive Medicine
  • Anesthesiology & Pain Management
  • Integrative & Holistic Medicine
  • Food Animals
  • Behavior
  • Zoo Medicine
  • Toxicology
  • Orthopedics
  • Emergency & Critical Care
  • Equine Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Pediatrics
  • Respiratory Medicine
  • Shelter Medicine
  • Parasitology
  • Clinical Pathology
  • Virtual Care
  • Rehabilitation
  • Epidemiology
  • Fish Medicine
  • Diabetes
  • Livestock
  • Endocrinology

Make it rewarding


To keep happy, high-quality employees, you need to show great team members that you appreciate their contributions. Would your rewards get rave reviews?

ROBERT MCNAMARA, FORMER U.S. Secretary of Defense, may have said it best when he said, "Brains, like hearts, go where they are appreciated." All people want to feel valued, and your team members are no different. Do you help your practice gather happy hearts and minds?

A recent VetMedTeam.com survey posed the question, "How important are demonstrations of employee appreciation to your overall job satisfaction?" A resounding 72 percent of responding staff members say praise was "extremely important."

You docs don't disagree; almost three-fourths (73 percent) of respondents to The 2005 Veterinary Economics Practice Trends Study say the possibility of rewards motivates their staff members. So you know your team members want you to recognize and reward their work. And you know it helps morale. But you still may not offer enough positive feedback and reinforcement.

"Unfortunately, we tend to notice what wasn't done or the mistake that was made; we rarely give compliments in the workplace," says ArLyne Diamond, Ph.D., a management consultant and professional development coach with Diamond Associates in Santa Clara, Calif. "Most people are in a hurry and fail to show appreciation. And professionals are among the worst because they get so caught up in patients or clients that they forget to show appreciation—verbal or otherwise."

Little extras can make up for employees' typical day-to-day frustrations or gripes, such as long hours, a just-average income, tiring clients, and so on. But knowing how to reward your staff members can get a bit tricky.

More carrots

"There's no one-size-fits all reward," says Diamond. "You have to know your people. If, for example, you have a single mom working for you or someone who's working and going to school, time off may be more valuable than anything else you could give. But if you know someone's struggling to make ends meet, a small monetary reward would be a better choice. So, in a sense, the greatest gift you can give another human is to know them and what they'll appreciate most."

Take it to the next level

"Basic, reasonable, and legitimate employee needs include a fair wage (which is higher than our profession generally pays); good working conditions and hours, which means your team enjoys a positive work environment and goes home on time; health insurance; and retirement benefits," says Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Ernest Ward Jr., owner of Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. "In my opinion, these are elementary responsibilities of any employer."

At Seaside Animal Care, team members are offered health and dental insurance, retirement benefits, and extensive pet medical benefits that include complimentary wellness care for all employee pets. But that's only the beginning. Dr. Ward's practice has also given team members:

  • quarterly massages

  • free shoes with a note that says 'thanks for going the extra mile—here's a pair for the next one'

  • surprise limo rides to the mall with cash in hand for spending

  • memberships to local health clubs

  • motivational and health-related books and audiotapes/CDs

  • free fitness evaluations

  • image consultations

  • nutritional consultations from licensed dietitians

  • trips to great CE locations

  • flowers for Valentine's Day

  • tickets to movies, ball games, and concerts

  • paid birthdays off, and

  • surprise ice-cream cakes.

Plus, employees celebrating their five-, seven- and 10-year anniversaries receive money for a special trip to an exotic location or a visit to a special family member or destination.

Figure 1

Dr. Ward says his staff members are extremely appreciative of these creative extras. "These gestures demonstrate that we keep employees' personal well-being in mind, not just what they can do for us at work," he says. "The best, most effective rewards should be luxuries, something that the employee wouldn't normally do or pay for themselves. In my experience, if you just give cash, it doesn't have the same resonance or impact that an activity or special gift does."

Could you improve?

How can you tell whether you're doing enough to recognize your crew? Try asking your employees. Distribute an anonymous survey asking team members whether they've recently received some sort of recognition or reward for their efforts. Ask what sort of rewards would compel them to really step things up at work. And listen carefully during exit interviews: Former employees will generally be honest about whether their new job offers better perks.

Another way to gauge how well you're rewarding employees: Ask yourself how many times you rewarded a staff member this week. This month? Write down these numbers.

"If you're an observant person and you have happy employees, you're doing a good job," says Diamond. "If team members are sullen, unhappy, fighting with each other, or taking unnecessary time off, then you're not doing a good job making them feel appreciated."

Remember, says Dr. Ward, rewards are a tangible expression of appreciation for a team's hard work, dedication, and loyalty. "Rewards prove that your caring extends beyond the paycheck to the person."

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