Kellie G. Olah
SPHR, CVPM, SHRM-SCP
HR Huddle columnist Kellie Olah is the practice management and human resources consultant at Veterinary Business Advisors. The company provides legal, human resources and practice management services to veterinarians nationwide. Olah is a certified veterinary practice manager, a certified veterinary business leader and a nationally certified senior professional in human resources.Read Articles Written by Kellie G. Olah
Team members and job candidates desire more than a paycheck. Benefits such as flexible schedules, paid CE and mentoring can produce happier employees.
Veterinary practices have found that they need to make the workplace as appealing as possible if they want to recruit and retain quality team members. In the past, clinics could simply advertise for candidates, interview them, select the best ones and then reveal the employee benefits. Today’s reality, however, is quite different as the needs and desires of younger employees aren’t necessarily the same as those valued by baby boomers. (As boomers age, their needs can evolve, too.)
When employers search for the right person to hire, remember that quality candidates use the interview process to decide which company is the best fit. Here are some of the benefits that are in wide demand today.
One size no longer fits all (if it ever really did). Baby boomers can have significantly different wants and needs than millennials and Gen Zers. The challenge for employers is to offer a broad menu of benefits that appeals across the life cycle.
Traditional health insurance is valued by everyone, especially when employers don’t shift too much of the cost burden onto workers, and so are retirement plans. Younger workers, though, might focus more on finding a company that will help with their staggering student loan debt or their need for reliable child care. As baby boomers age, disability benefits might be more attractive than they once were.
The good news for veterinary employers is that practices can offer a spectrum of benefits where employees choose what they want and pay for it at a group rate. This can be a significant win-win.
A 2019 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management showed that 8% of respondents worked for a company that offered tuition reimbursement, double from the previous year. While the percentage might be small, the benefit can put your practice above the rest when you try to attract and keep young talent.
Forward-thinking companies are becoming more creative in finding ways to help with student loan debt. Some are getting government permission to tie matching 401(k) contributions to student loan payments, while others are creating incentive programs for young professionals that apply rewards to student debt. Still others allow employees to exchange their paid time off for loan payments.
Today’s college graduates greatly value work-life balance. A Gallup survey indicated that 53% of employees place a premium on it, and that number is likely to continue to increase as new veterinarians and nurses enter the field. Because work-life balance is even more valuable to women, the benefit is especially important to note in industries, such as veterinary practice, that are female-dominated.
Hospitals that want to assemble an all-star team should offer flex-time schedules. Doing this can be challenging, given that pets can’t get hands-on treatments from telecommuting veterinary professionals. Instead, practices might need to provide more in-job flexibility. For example, practice managers can match up job responsibilities with the interests of each employee. Or it could mean allowing team members to swap positions on certain days and vary what they do, which can help strengthen teamwork.
One of the most desired ways to offer flexibility is by accommodating a team member’s personal schedule and needs within a workweek. For example, how can you facilitate shift switching in a way that meets the practice’s needs and allows employees to enjoy life away from work? Can you adjust start times or lunch breaks? Can schedules be rearranged to permit four-day workweeks? That’s another in-demand perk.
A study conducted by Workplace Trends found that 75% of employees listed flexibility as the most important fringe benefit. Organizations that provide flexibility benefit in the following ways:
- Improved employee satisfaction (87%).
- Increased productivity (71%).
- Talent retention (65%).
Mental Health Support
Having a quality work-life balance goes a long way in helping employees manage their mental health. That’s a big plus.
According to a 2019 survey from the National Business Group on Health, nearly half of large companies planned to provide manager training to help better understand employees’ mental health challenges. The goal is to shine a spotlight on mental health issues, whether depression, anxiety or something else, and highlight solutions. Some companies planned to have onsite counselors while others were looking into reducing medication co-pays. Other strategies include allowing the same co-pays for behavioral treatments outside the insurance network and reduced treatment copays.
Another popular benefit helps pay for employees’ professional development or continuing education. One study showed that 87% of millennials consider the opportunity to grow professionally to be a key benefit. In turn, a more educated workforce provides significant benefits to a veterinary practice.
Encourage a learning mindset in your practice and focus on providing educational opportunities that would make your team members even more valuable. If learning stipends aren’t practical, find out what employees want to learn more about and then provide in-clinic workshops.
Team members today often want to be mentored by an experienced person, someone who can navigate a new hire through the workplace culture and explain policies and procedures. Each new employee might have slightly different mentoring needs, but providing the benefit can strengthen the practice. The faster a new hire feels comfortable and part of a team, the more likely he or she will want to stay.
Also consider reverse mentoring, where new hires who possess certain expertise mentor established employees. The concept was created in 1999 at General Electric Co., and other companies have adopted it. One employer reported a 96% retention rate among millennials involved in reverse mentoring. They felt valued for their contributions to the company and for being given the chance to work closely with senior employees.
Another survey showed that more than 1 in 6 working adults is a caregiver. These employees appreciate having flexible working arrangements that allow them to care for loved ones. This is true for boomer employees with an ill spouse or young grandchild at home and for millennials with aging parents.
Employees also can benefit from legal counseling to navigate medical and financial powers of attorneys, as just one example, or when adopting grandchildren.
Numerous states recognize the needs of caregivers. Several states have passed family and medical leave programs that are more generous than the federal mandate.
The Latest Technology
Employees’ ears perk up upon hearing that a competing practice invested in or accessed the latest medical technology. Tech-enabled workplaces are more appealing to many of today’s job candidates. Non-veterinary technology also draws attention. For example, practices could provide online continuing education or a training and development center that employees self-access. Gamification might appeal to the younger generation, too, with training done in an interactive, engaging, immersive way.
If the idea of gamification is new to you, think back to my comments about reverse mentoring. You could ask new employees to teach gamification e-learning to your team.
It’s Your Turn
Staying in tune with what new employees desire is important if a practice is to continue to grow. Clinic leaders can learn more about trendy fringe benefits by reading industry reports, reviewing human resources surveys, talking to current team members and interviewing new employees. You will discover different ways to effectively recruit and retain employees without diminishing patient care.
Because all veterinary practices have limited budgets for employee benefits, survey team members about what they really value, explore opt-in benefits that cost little or nothing, and be creative.