Opening Shots columnist Dr. Ernie Ward is an award-winning veterinarian, impact entrepreneur, book author and media personality. When he’s not with family or pet patients, Dr. Ward can be found contemplating solutions during endurance athletics and meditation and on his weekly podcast, “Veterinary Viewfinder.” Learn more at drernieward.com
If you have a question about practice life, personal well-being, leadership or veterinary careers, email email@example.comRead Articles Written by Ernie Ward
Q: I took another job in town and am about to give my resignation notice. How can I avoid telling my boss where I’m going to work?
A: You’re not obligated to inform your boss or manager where you’re going, but make sure to abide by any contractual obligations, such as a termination notice, nonemployment with competitors and the return of company assets.
Despite your desire not to tell, you’ll be asked out of curiosity or concern. Most bosses are genuinely interested in where you’re headed and aren’t spiteful. However, they want to ensure that you’re not a threat to their business or engaging in employment that violates your work agreement. If you’re not willing to answer such questions, be prepared that your last day is when you turn in your notice.
When pressed, you could respond, “My new employer asked me not to identify it until I start work. I’m grateful for my time here and abiding by all my contract termination responsibilities.” Another option would be: “I’m sorry, but I’m just not comfortable discussing it. I hope you understand.” Keep it simple.
I’ll stress that you shouldn’t antagonize your old boss when you turn in your notice, no matter how you feel. We live in a small world and work in an even tinier profession. You don’t know what the future holds, so don’t do anything hurtful that gives you instant gratification but could bring years of consequences. Move on in gratitude, and look forward to the next chapter.
Q: My practice owner and manager often yell at us in the treatment area whenever something isn’t going well. When it’s really bad, they’ll throw stuff (not at us, just around us). So much drama! Do they think it will help? If so, please tell them it doesn’t.
A: I teach during my lectures that leaders should not do a couple of things in front of their teams: cry and yell. If you need to cry — we all cry at some point — do it privately unless you’re confident that a group sob session will help the situation. Additionally, there’s never a time to yell at your team unless it’s “Fire!” or a major emergency. Adults in a safe and healthy work environment should never resort to yelling at each other. In my opinion, yelling always causes more harm than good. And throwing stuff? Those who do should question their competency as business owners or managers.
Many leaders yell because they lack self-control and don’t know any better. It’s a primal mindset in which the loudest voice earns the most respect. It’s absolutely wrong in the workplace. I’ve also found that bosses who yell are typically abusive toward everyone and ultimately suffer physically, emotionally and mentally. They can’t sustain that level of anxiety, angst and anger without consequences. Meanwhile, everyone around them pays the price immediately.
As much as we applaud firing disrespectful clients, we tend to disregard disrespectful leaders. If you’re the target of screams and shouts, you must stand up for yourself and your colleagues. Don’t bark back (no matter how tempting), but in a firm, calm voice, say the behavior is disrespectful and that you won’t tolerate it. If they can proceed civilly, you’d prefer to discuss the situation privately. If it escalates, I advise exiting the building and not returning. Toxic actions take an unbearable toll on your health.
Veterinary leaders, yelling at your employees doesn’t work. Stop it already.
Q: A client claimed we were wrong to charge two general exam fees — the first for her pet’s annual visit and the second because of an ear infection the following week. She said she shouldn’t have to pay twice, especially over such a short period. We gave her half off the ear exam, but she still left a nasty online review. The exam fee confusion has happened before, and I’m unsure how to prevent it.
A: Exam fee fights! As a young practice owner, I found myself pressed against the money-moaning ropes, desperately trying to bob and weave my way out of a checkbook brawl. I discovered that by changing my fee terminology, I could dodge many blows and create value for my services.
The first step was to define each exam by service or body system. We replaced vague phrases such as “office fee” and “general exam” with specifics like “dermatology exam” and “annual physical exam — healthy pet.” While every pet, healthy or sick, should receive a total body exam, the fact is we focus more intently and often perform additional evaluations on an affected body system. A neurological exam is different than a gastrointestinal exam.
Even though our fees were identical (except for behavioral exams, which were higher), we found that clients accepted that their visit was for a specific reason, not “just an exam.” Changing our terminology helped reduce accusations of double-charging.
Another reason I changed the nomenclature was to track our most frequent exam types, aiding me in staff training. The reports informed our staff and client education and identified the areas we needed to improve.
You can’t escape all money grumbling. Some clients were “here just last week” and expect us to identify any ailment at any time. Such complaints serve as a reminder to examine every pet at every visit thoroughly.
Q: I’ve been a veterinary technician for three years. We hired a new manager who asked me to text and call employees when they were not working. How can I tell her the requests make me uncomfortable without risking my job?
A: What the manager did was a devilishly deceitful way to ask work questions of employees who aren’t at work. The tactic provides her with cover if the owner receives complaints. I can hear the manager now: “It wasn’t me; their teammate called. Sounds like an employee going the extra mile.” You’ve got to admit it’s freaking bold.
Employers must respect the staff’s personal boundaries. (I’m looking at you, after-hours questions.) Sure, the odd exception requires urgent contact, but for 99% of inquiries, there’s no legitimate reason to interrupt a person’s time off.
A manager should resist the urge to ring off-duty staff unless it’s a true emergency. If you regularly need responses to questions only a certain someone can answer, it’s time to improve your clinic workflows and team training. Asking a subordinate to do your dirty work is inappropriate.
In this case, I understand the feelings of discomfort and being taken advantage of. You should talk to the manager and express your feelings. If you don’t get an apology and contrition, I’d take the issue to the practice owner. If the response involves “accessibility anytime,” you might need to reconsider whether you’re willing to provide it.
I think a quote from advice columnist Ann Landers applies: “You can’t be taken advantage of without your permission.” By going along, you validate the order and potentially encourage the behavior to spread.