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Staff Strife, Instagram Envy and More

Opening Shots columnist Dr. Ernie Ward answers your questions.

Staff Strife, Instagram Envy and More

Q: My best technician of 10 years is loved by our clients but hated by our staff. She’s patient and kind with pets but condescending and rude to other team members. I don’t want to fire her, but the situation is destroying my team. What do I do?

A: Unlike Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster, the legendary Practice Diva or Divo can be found in clinics around the world. A heavenly heroine/hero to clients and a holy terror to the team, these employees are camouflaged from practice owners and managers by carefully calculated butt-kissing, misdirection and solid production. Once flushed out, these employees claim victimhood and often escape punishment when the owner rules in favor of individual longevity or production over team harmony and progress. I learned early in my career that divas/divos thrive by bulldozing morale to prop up their fragile egos. You need team players who are able to nurture, support and elevate each other.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to fix destructive employees. I wish you could change their nature, but only they can reform themselves. Share your concerns and see how your technician reacts. If she’s as bad as you describe, now might be the time to dethrone her. In my experience, when a diva/divo departs, the team blooms like a flower exposed to the sun after being buried in the dark. Here’s wishing you sunny days.

Q: I struggle to talk with my clients about their pets’ weight problems. I know you are an expert on pet obesity. How can I broach the subject credibly and without offending my clients?

A: If you want to start a fight, ask someone what and how much they feed their pet these days. I feel your pain.

My first tip is to clear your conscience about judging the client (or yourself) in any way. You’re having a discussion about the single biggest health threat that pets face. Think of it in terms of how you talk about preventing rabies or FeLV, diagnosing cancer or heart disease, or alleviating painful arthritis. Pet obesity is a disease and deserves to be treated as such.

Second, you’re not talking about humans. Period. Your sole focus is on the pet. Period. Don’t allow these uncertainties to creep in from the edges of self-doubt. You’re an authority and you have a responsibility to report any health threat. When you remain centered on clinical observations, it’s easier to avoid cognitive biases.

Finally, this isn’t a win-or-lose proposition. Despite my years of experience, about half of my clients don’t adhere to my recommendations beyond six months. Our obligation is to objectively inform, offer potential solutions and allow the client to decide. Don’t beat yourself up if a client rejects or ignores your advice. You’ve done your job by bravely speaking up on a serious issue. Don’t be surprised when a client who initially shunned your suggestions returns, eager to embark on their pet’s weight-loss journey.

Q: One of my employees posted negative comments about our practice on her personal social media page. She expressed her overall unhappiness and that she was looking for a new job. Should I fire her? Am I a staff stalker?

A: Stalking your staff on public social media feeds isn’t illegal and is often insightful. Many companies routinely research an applicant’s online identity to get a better idea about whether the person would fit the business culture. So, I say scroll away as you see fit.

The question of whether to fire your employee is a bit trickier. In general, if an employee is unhappy enough to proclaim it to the world, that’s a serious problem. Of course, she could’ve had a bad day and been simply venting.

If this is a team member you need to shed, now is an excellent opportunity. If you value her and think she had a misunderstanding, talk to her privately. Tell her you heard she may be unhappy at work and that you want to know how you can help. If she denies it, explain that you ran across her post and want to understand what’s wrong. If you’re able to reconcile, inform her that such posts negatively impact the clinic’s image and harm team morale. In the future, she can feel free to vent to you or another practice leader instead of sharing her complaints with the entire planet.

Pro tip: Good leaders listen more than they speak in these situations.

Q: Every time I look at my social media I feel depressed when I see my friends getting massages and going to the gym. I want to do more self-care, but with massive student loans and a low salary, I simply can’t afford it. Why does wellness have to cost so much?

A: Peek at my Instagram and you’ll overdose on carefully curated pics of lithe, glistening bodies in exotic locales performing impossible physical feats while attired in form-fitting fashion. As you hinted, these inferiority-inducing images can chip away at your self-worth.

As a certified personal trainer and triathlon coach for over 15 years, I’ve witnessed wellness go from “health nuts” to “mandatory self-care.” Much of this shift has been positive, but I fear we’ve miscast wellness as spa days and facials instead of what true self-care is: the persistent pursuit of optimal health.

Wellness begins with routine medical checkups, adequate restorative rest each night, proper hydration and nutrition, aerobic and strength activities, and daily meditation or gratitude practices. None of those cost much, and they set the foundation for a lifetime of well-being. Focus less on extravagant escapes and more on drinking water, sleeping better, increasing your veggies and ramping up exercise. Save the spa and wine-fueled retreats for after your first 5K or after reaching a fitness goal. And take it easy on the vino.

Q: I consider myself a good boss. I give my staff regular raises, provide competitive benefits, and keep my clinic updated and clean. This year, due to coronavirus, I was only able to give my receptionists a 25-cent-an-hour raise. I heard through the grapevine that they were complaining and less than grateful. I’m not that much older than them (Generation X), but is this a millennial issue or is everyone entitled these days?

A: From one Gen Xer to another, I’ll say that while there are many differences between us, boomers and millennials, the issue of a minuscule raise isn’t one of them.

Being a good boss requires from you much more than a paycheck or salary bump. A clear vision and mission, commitment to improving others, and pats on the back are a few qualities that employees need from a caring employer. Pay raises when times are tough can be either inspiring or demoralizing. Sounds like you opened door No. 2.

Being transparent with your compensation philosophy and sharing pay ranges is a good first step. Another tip is to personally recognize team members for a job well done. A kind pat or handwritten note can catapult an employee’s attitude to the stars.

Finally, sit down with each team member and conduct annual performance reviews, clarifying why they earned a raise. Too many owners dole out raises based on time, missing a valuable opportunity to celebrate excellence and encourage development. Don’t be a slacker when it comes to taking care of your team.

Opening Shots columnist Dr. Ernie Ward (drernieward.com) 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 for the future as he participates in endurance athletics and meditation.

If you have a question about practice life, personal well-being, leadership or veterinary careers, email [email protected].