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Put on your thinking cap

Consider three strategies for retaining a star employee who has reached the top of the job pay range.

Put on your thinking cap
Rather than waiting until a situation arises in which a top performer reaches her pay plateau, create a policy on how the situation will be handled, and know which conversations you’ll need to have with the employee.

Let’s say you employ the veterinary nurse of your dreams. Not only is she wonderful with the animals, she is compassionate with their owners. She communicates clearly with clients, she’s highly experienced in necessary skills, she’s always on time, she’s willing to do her share and more, and she avoids gossip, among other positive traits. She is, without a doubt, a star-level veterinary nurse, one you’re extremely lucky to have on your team.

The problem? She is receiving the maximum pay allowable in her range, according to your practice standards, and a nearby corporate practice is known for wooing away top talent. A cost-of-living pay raise is due soon, but it’s not going to make a significant difference in her earnings.

You might not have this exact situation at your veterinary practice, but clinics often face challenges that are very similar. If your practice is one of these, what can you do?

Here are three possibilities that you can mix and match for your unique practice needs.

1. Double-Check the Current Market

When was the last time you looked at the going pay rate for, in this example, veterinary nurses? If it has been awhile, you likely need to review your pay ranges. As a starting point, review this chart of hourly pay amounts being offered in small animal companion practices, according to current key indicators. This is not an all-inclusive list. Rather, it’s step one to help you determine whether your practice is on target with pay ranges or if you need to consider revisions.

How closely does your pay structure align with these figures? Where you live in the United States likely will affect local rates, but the chart is a start. Can you extend the upper compensation range to keep dream employees at your practice? Because the U.S. economy has remained strong for a while, the reality is that you might continue to lose top talent if you can’t find ways to compensate appropriately, and this unfortunate fact will continue to be true until the job market tightens. And let’s face it: Your best employees will likely find higher-paying opportunities no matter the economic situation.

If you can’t offer higher pay to a star employee, how you explain the salary cap is crucial in your attempt to keep the employee, so be prepared to have an honest talk about your practice’s policies and budgets.

Also be creative. Can you offer a one-time bonus to fill the gaps as you consider strategies two and three? Can you formulate incentive pay structures for your team? This will help your star employees to add to their paychecks, and other employees might become motivated by the incentives. Win-win!

2. Career Opportunities

If you can’t offer more money for the person’s current job, consider promotion opportunities that exist and talk to her about the possibilities. How does your star feel about the responsibilities of a new position? If the promotion would require more education or training, can you help provide it or at least offer a conducive work environment in support of the transition?

Here, though, is an important caution. Let’s say a supervisory position is open at your practice and it would allow you to pay a star employee more than she is currently making. It’s easy to become enthusiastic about the idea of promoting the employee, but it’s also crucial to take your time throughout the promotion process for multiple reasons, including these two:

  • You need to follow your practice’s policies and procedures each and every time you hire or promote.
  • The promotion might or might not fit the employee’s strengths. If it doesn’t, then not only have you promoted the wrong person, but you’ve taken a star team member out of the position where she was shining.

Whether you can or can’t employ strategies No. 1 or 2 in your practice, all practices should consider strategy No. 3.

3. Creative Perks

What perks can you offer? One of the most in-demand perks is flexible scheduling. It might make all the difference in the world to your star employee if you rearrange schedules so she can come to work 30 minutes later in the morning, allowing her to see her children safely off to school. Or maybe you ensure that the employee can always take a lunch break when her children need to be picked up. In the relatively rare instances when telecommuting works for a practice employee, it likely will be a treasured perk.

Another caution: Make sure you offer perks to all employees in a fair way. Although you do not need to offer the same perks to every employee, be careful not to discriminate based on race or gender, as just one example. And even if you aren’t providing discriminatory perks, you need to make sure you aren’t acting in a way that can reasonably be perceived as unfair, which could hurt office morale.

If you are unsure about what is legal, consult an attorney. If you’re unsure about what may cause other employees to lose heart, prioritize finding creative perks for the entire practice.

What professional development perks can you offer? How can you help employees who take you up on bettering themselves and improving their skills but still have to juggle their responsibilities? How can you relax dress codes to a degree that allows your employees some flexibility but keeps a professional look at your practice? In which instances can you allow employees to help choose the technology they will use at work?

When you ask employees which perks are most important to them, how do they respond?

Rather than waiting until a situation arises in which a top performer reaches her pay plateau, create a policy on how the situation will be handled, and know which conversations you’ll need to have with the employee. How much information will you share about practice financials to help her understand why pay plateaus exist where they do?

Know ahead of time which options you can offer that employee and be aware of those you should avoid. As in virtually every challenge, well-thought-out policies and preparation are key.

H.R. Huddle columnist Dr. Charlotte Lacroix is founder and CEO of Veterinary Business Advisors Inc. She serves on the Today’s Veterinary Business editorial advisory board.