Creative Disruption columnist Dr. Bob Lester is the chief medical officer at WellHaven Pet Health, a former practice owner and a founding member of Banfield Pet Hospital and the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine. He serves on the boards of Pet Peace of Mind, WellHaven Pet Health and the Lincoln Memorial veterinary college. He is president-elect of the North American Veterinary Community.Read Articles Written by Bob Lester
The Great Resignation, aka the Big Quit, describes a phenomenon in which employees leave their jobs in huge numbers. A record 40 million-plus Americans said “I quit” in 2021, many of them seeking better prospects with new employers. Bankrate reported that more than half of the U.S. workers surveyed said they planned to look for a new job in 2022. In an iVet 360 survey, veterinary practice managers indicated that their top challenge is recruiting. The veterinary workforce was tight pre-COVID, and the pandemic dramatically accelerated an existing shortage into a full-blown crisis.
The result is a shift in power from the employer to the employee. Employees are asking for and receiving higher wages, better fringe benefits and a more flexible work-life balance. That’s a good thing for the veterinary profession, which has long been plagued by overwork and underpay.
Wise employers have turned the Great Resignation into the Great Renegotiation to keep talented employees. Even wiser employers addressed their associates’ needs and wants before COVID, sidestepping the Great Resignation in favor of the Great Retention.
Why are people quitting? The reasons vary, but there are commonalities, and it’s not just compensation. We chose to enter the veterinary profession to care for animals, make a difference and fulfill our career purpose. Those are the same reasons we choose to stay. What’s missing? Some employees don’t feel known or cared for, they’re not told their job has a purpose and makes a difference, they have little flexibility, and they have poor compensation and lousy benefits. That can all be solved. By retaining and investing in our veterinary teams, we can better attract new talent and better attract and retain clients, all while improving patient care, client service and the bottom line. It starts and ends with taking care of our people.
What to Do
How can employers support employee retention? Don’t wait for resignations when you can proactively renegotiate. What might you offer? Of course, compensation must be addressed, but wages are only one piece of the pie. Consider some of the following:
- Enhanced benefits such as medical, dental and vision insurance and 401(k) matches.
- Generous paid time off.
- Better delegation. Doctors should trust and train their teams to do everything but diagnose, prescribe and perform surgery.
- More autonomy. Allow hospital leaders the freedom to lead their unique practices to best meet the needs of their teams and communities.
- Flexible scheduling to best balance life and work (in that order).
- Beefed-up well-being offerings beyond a simple employee assistance program.
- Robust professional development opportunities such as virtual CE offerings, hands-on wet labs, leadership training, veterinary technician tuition assistance, CE allowances and career pathing.
Speaking of investing in professional growth and training, did you know that Gallup polling indicated that 57% of U.S. workers want to update their skills? Gallup further pointed out that workers ages 18 to 24 said that learning new skills is more important than retirement, sick leave, parental leave, life insurance and vacation.
Here’s a pro tip: Conduct stay interviews. Most of us are aware of exit interviews, which take a rear-view-mirror approach to learning why employees leave. On the other hand, stay interviews query current team members about what they like and don’t like about the workplace. Simply ask them what would make their jobs more fulfilling. Listen closely and act. Nothing is more valuable to your practice than the people who choose to work for you.
How to Pay for It
How can employers afford better wages, benefits and professional development opportunities? By raising fees (euphemistically referred to as “pricing optimization”). Happily, our profession has never had more pricing power than today. Pricing power refers to the ability to raise fees without reducing demand. The demand for our services is overwhelming.
Consider twice-a-year fee increases instead of once a year, and make them larger than before in light of rising inflation. By passing the additional revenue to the team, total compensation (wages and benefits) can increase. The services we offer and our teams’ hard work more than justify higher prices. Sadly, another potential consequence of raising fees is further limiting care to pet owners with limited income.
Employees have multiple employment options. Your workplace culture, benefits, wages and growth opportunities can set your practice apart in today’s highly competitive hiring market.
Anecdotally, I see chess pieces moving across the board. By that, I mean my employer, WellHaven Pet Health, is making good strides in retaining talent and attracting new employees. However, the new talent left someone else’s practice. Our profession isn’t seeing a net addition of people; we’re just moving people around. They’re leaving practices that don’t listen, don’t offer competitive pay and benefits, and don’t renegotiate. The movement of people around the veterinary chessboard is a great topic for another day.
What the Future Holds
How will a post-pandemic veterinary workforce look? It won’t look like 2019. We’re seeing rising wages supported by fee increases, better benefits, improved training, more flexibility and a better work-life balance. We’re seeing veterinary professionals moving from unresponsive employers to those who listen, act and invest in their people. Those are the practices retaining the talent needed for the growth and prosperity of our teams and profession.
CAN WE TALK?
A Veterinary Hospital Managers Association survey found that 59% of the responding practices conduct exit interviews with all or some employees and 19% “only when determined necessary.” About 13% opt for no concluding chat.