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Domineering management styles can force the best employees out the door

I get letters, lots and lots of letters concerning veterinarians. I received one recently that I though might give you a good laugh. Certainly no veterinarian or associate in his or her right mind would use these draconian tactics with their own staff.

It seems that this particular satellite had an in-charge associate who used a "drive-by management" approach, hurling seemingly random "deity-inspired bolts of lightening from on high."

He knew only how to complain and criticize and loved the fact that his job market, which so favors employers, allowed him to fire and replace any member of his staff with another still-warm body at a whim. He had a hearing deficit whenever it concerned complaints, and he treated all his staff like mushrooms, keeping them in the dark and feeding them manure. He never gave any praise and pointed out every mistake he could.

One of his best receptionists was about to quit. She told me everything else about this job was great, so she hated the thought of changing jobs just because of a bad boss.

She asked, "Is there anything that can be done to change this type of boss? Was there any recourse other than bailing out?"

USA Today (April 12, 2004) had an editorial by Alan M. Webber that should scare the pants off of "drive-by" managers. He predicts a "tsunami-like wave of employee defection" now that the economy has turned the corner.

The article, "Firms Will Pay When Workers Make Escape," points to compelling signs of the "very serious problem that's lurking below the headlines," including a study done by Florida-based Spherion, a recruiting and outsourcing firm.

Out of 3,000 workers interviewed, 51 percent said they wanted to leave their jobs, and 75 percent said they were likely to leave within one year.

Evidence shows that even as this issue goes to press, staffs everywhere already are voting with their feet, and departing employees aren't always going to the hospital down the street. One statistic Webber pointed to is a staggering one: "The number of self-employed women has increased 77 percent since 1983 — twice the rate of men. And women-owned businesses employ 52 percent of the private sector workforce. The message these women are sending to the male-dominated workplace is simple: We can do better on our own."

He also references companies who have offered early retirement or buyout packages to older workers in an attempt to trim ranks. What's surprising, he notes, is the number of workers in their early 50s who are grabbing them. In some cases, companies are finding the brain drain to be disastrous.

In our fictitious receptionist's case, the "employees are a dime a dozen" attitude does significant and sustained damage. I know of many practices, such as yours, where an associate or even the owner abused his staff for years.

In spite of staff leaving for usually unstated reasons, huge employee turnover, complaints and the countless other symptoms of a sick situation, the associate in charge usually doesn't connect the dots and doesn't act soon enough (if at all) when he finally meanders to the inevitable conclusion. I've seen situations where only defection finally forces these veterinarians to do what they should have done years before.

My experience is that this veterinarian's behavior has been tolerated because of several possible factors:

  • Nobody, even the corporation's top management, will confront him for fear of not being able to find a replacement.

  • He's got a special talent or expertise the corporation doesn't want to lose, so senior management is willing to look the other way.

  • Senior management is simply unaware of how serious his behavior really is.

If you choose to complain about him, be aware that senior management might fall into one of these camps, so frame your concerns accordingly. Your best bet would be to work through your office manager.

I agree with the Spherion study that estimates, "The cost of an employee leaving is approximately 1.5 times his or her annual salary." According to this editorial, the real cost is "the best people always leave first because they have the most choices. After the best people leave, the second-rate people get promoted — and they have a tendency to hire and promote third-rate people."

This practice will self-destruct because the stress of the working environment under this terrorist associate will lead to defection after defection. Clients go where they perceive a warm, caring attitude on the part of the staff, and this frazzled staff will not exude the level of comfort clients want and need.

Of course, the whole thing is fictitious anyway, but just out of curiosity, what kind of boss runs your practice?

Dr. Snyder, a well-known consultant, publishes Veterinary Productivity, a newsletter for practice productivity and is available for in-practice consultation. He can be reached at 2895 SW Bear Paw Trail, Palm City, FL 34990; (800) 292-7995; vetprod@bellsouth.net; Fax (772) 220-4355.

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