Is your veterinary staff's unhappiness showing?


You might be surprised by the influence unhappy team members have on your veterinary clients. Make sure your staff is satisfied-your clients will notice the difference.

Spending 15 minutes in the reception area of a veterinary hospital tells me a lot about the practice. I watch the front desk personnel to see how they interact with clients and patients as they schedule appointments and handle collections. In some cases, veterinary team members exhibit high levels of energy, efficiency, and friendliness, and the veterinary clients seem uplifted by their positive attitudes. However, at other times, it's a totally different story.

On a recent visit to a busy hospital, a multitasking receptionist was attempting to do it all. She looked frazzled and unhappy—and so did the clients waiting their turn. However, I didn't blame her—I blamed the practice management. She simply had too much to do. Her attitude and job performance would probably improve if her manager assigned her fewer daily tasks.

Truth be known, many veterinarians focus more on profitability and practice growth than on employee satisfaction. In some cases, they cut back on staff. In others, they overlook job-related issues that reduce employee morale and motivation. One technician told me, "The doctor just doesn't understand. I'm overworked and unappreciated, but I don't complain. I need this job—but the sad thing is that my heart's not really in it."

Do you think her negativity comes across to clients? You bet. Will it cause them to defect to another practice? Probably not. It will, however, decrease their loyalty and even reduce referrals to the practice. In contrast, happy employees who love their jobs are far more inclined to delight clients by treating them with courtesy and warmth. Here are some action steps you can take to make sure your team members are happy:

> Solicit feedback. Want to know what your staff is thinking? Ask them. One veterinary practice distributed a survey titled "Dumb Rules and Policies" to learn which management edicts, if any, were turning team members off. (Want to know what got the most votes? Time clocks.)

> Don't skimp on payroll. If your staff has more work to do than time allows—and the pressure never lets up—it's just a matter of time until they experience burnout and quit.

If your veterinary staff members aren't happy, make an effort to fix the problem. You might just find that your practice grows as a result of the improved morale.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is the author of 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing, and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices (Jones and Bartlett, 2007).

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