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 firstname.lastname@example.orgRead Articles Written by Ernie Ward
Q: A new employee refuses to attend our clinic’s parties. When I ask why, she says she doesn’t like gatherings. I’m afraid she’s isolating herself from the team. How can I make her go?
A: To answer this, I’ll assume you mean after-hours parties or functions. Bluntly put, you can’t make an employee attend unpaid after-hours functions, and I don’t think you should.
I advise shifting your thinking from making her go to discovering why she’s uncomfortable and helping her integrate into your team. Teamwork isn’t contingent on how your team parties.
I once had an employee who was a recovering alcoholic. Despite a no-alcohol policy at our events, she felt uncomfortable in social settings and sat out our off-site holiday festivities. No big deal. She was a beloved co-worker who tremendously influenced our workplace culture.
A business owner or manager’s goal is to create an environment that nurtures relationships and builds teamwork. I challenge you to explore why you feel an employee who doesn’t hang out after work is at risk of isolation. Is something missing from work that your team can only find elsewhere? Can you foster relationships and trust within the workday? Regular staff training, performance evaluations and frequent employee check-ins are beneficial in maintaining a solid team.
For the record, I support after-hours gatherings. I enjoy meeting my colleagues in a context outside the clinic’s four walls. We dress and talk differently, and we see another side of each other. I believe that’s valuable to an organization. I recommend limiting or avoiding alcohol at these events, but that’s me. I also respect my teammates’ boundaries. If they don’t want to socialize after work, there is no pressure from me.
Q: We’re short a veterinarian, so we’re considering staying open for a couple of hours during the week without a doctor on-site. However, we’re worried about handling emergencies or pet owners demanding to be seen during those times. Any advice?
A: Been there, done that. I faced the same dilemma as a solo practitioner in rural North Carolina. Here’s how I handled it for many years.
First, examine your state’s veterinary practice act. Specific procedures require a veterinarian’s presence, while others are entirely legal (and ethical, in my opinion) without a doctor on-site. For example, in my state, my staff can sell products and prescriptions (within a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship), perform nail trims and weight checks, and do other permitted income-generating procedures. Plus, clients appreciate the convenience of an open door.
Next, set clear boundaries and steps for handling situations for which you’re not prepared. Train your staff on what to do and say if a client seeks emergency care when a veterinarian isn’t present. Be quick with a recommended clinic, or offer to call the other hospital while the client is en route. We had preprinted emergency information and alerted surrounding hospitals when I wouldn’t be in the clinic. In those cases, we never took an injured animal from our lobby to the treatment area or separated it from its owner. Both actions could be interpreted as providing care. Even worse, if your team initiates care, no matter how seemingly insignificant or minor, the owner might be confused (and angered) if those attending to the pet stop suddenly.
Most folks facing a pet emergency simply want to know what to do. They’re not interested in why your veterinarian isn’t available, so don’t waste time giving unnecessary excuses. Instead, say, “We don’t have a veterinarian here now. If your pet needs immediate attention, we recommend heading to ABC Vet Clinic. Here’s a map and the contact info. I’ll be happy to call them while you’re on the way.”
Follow up with those owners whenever possible and appropriate. A call later in the day to see how things went can go a long way in showing you care. If the situation appeared dire, we often called the recommended clinic before following up with the pet owner. Unfortunately, I found that many clients never went there, or worst case, that the patient passed.
Finally, while the thought of true emergencies was intimidating, they were rare. Most clients were grateful our clinic was open for picking up items or providing specific services. We also found many clients would wait until I returned (if I was at a long lunch or meeting) or schedule an appointment for the following morning.
Of course, I sometimes chose to leave whatever I was doing elsewhere and see an emergency. I found that helping a client during a crisis was a practice builder. Stories are still told today about when “Dr. Ward came in to save my dog!”
Q: I’m trying to hire an associate veterinarian and offer something unique to the candidate. I can match most of my competitors, but what fringe benefit can I provide to stand out?
A: Financial wellness training and support.
I see many job postings promising big signing bonuses, pledges of mental health assistance and generous time off. Others tout excellent health care coverage, gym memberships and ample CE. What I don’t see often is financial wellness training to help new grads effectively manage their debt, learn about investing, and create (and maintain) personal budgets.
Many younger veterinary professionals don’t feel prepared to handle their finances. Managing money, especially in a tough economy, can generate a lot of stress in a young adult. In my opinion, financial wellness training should be a part of any mental health support program.
Offering financial training and resources is good for business and a way to retain top talent. Employees stressed about their finances are not only distracted from their work but more likely to leave if offered a higher salary elsewhere.
When people don’t know how to manage money, the typical solution is to try to get more of it. Unfortunately, many don’t understand that higher gross pay doesn’t always lead to improved financial security, resulting in the pursuit of “more” and rarely finding peace and contentment.
Financial wellness training and support can proactively address those issues and contribute to a culture of overall employee satisfaction and well-being. When team members feel comfortable with their finances, they’re less stressed, more productive and less likely to seek another job.
Contact your financial adviser and see what the person can provide. (You have one, right?) Our firm provided a suite of services my team could utilize. The business relationship cost me very little, and the benefits were well-received and, dare I say it, priceless.