How to Engage and Retain Your Veterinary Hires Long Past Onboarding

From time to time, every veterinary clinic needs to add new hires to their team, whether it's due to growth or just regular turnover. Finding and training employees requires a significant investment from you and other senior team members—and you don't want to waste that investment by losing them before they can start to add value.

Making the first few weeks and months comfortable and engaging for new employees will give them time to bond with your practice. Getting them started on the right foot can hopefully lead to long-term team members who will add value to your operations for years to come.

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Cultivate a Welcoming Environment

Starting a new job can be tough. Even if you have extensive veterinary industry experience, there are plenty of new things to learn—from basics like where a particular medication is stored to understanding a new practice management system—while trying to fit in and collaborate with new people and clients.

Here are a few ways to improve the veterinary onboarding experience for both new hires and the management team.

  • Use a training plan: This is a great way to set expectations about what needs to be learned and what your hire already knows while sharing responsibility for their progress.
  • Document your processes: Having clear, documented protocols not only makes learning easier for new hires but also provides a reference for your whole team.
  • Assign a buddy: Having a senior team member on shift alongside a new hire makes it easier for them to ask questions and feel part of the team quickly.
  • Check in regularly: Make the time to check in on progress every few days. You want your new team member to feel important, and this is a quick way to instill that their work has purpose and is making a meaningful impact.
  • Watch for negativity: Issues like gossip can be toxic for the whole team but can particularly affect new hires if not addressed right away.

Overall, your goal is to get new veterinary team members up and running as quickly as possible. This will not only benefit your practice operationally, but your new team members will be happier when they feel they are contributing.

Pay Attention to Your Culture and Values

The role of culture—and the values it's built on—is vital to any organization. Veterinary onboarding often focuses on the processes and tools of a particular clinic, and while that is important, it misses the opportunity to talk about your values. The jobs people remember most fondly are usually the ones where they know how to make decisions based on the organization's values and mission.

Talk about the "why," as well as the "what," of your veterinary practice during training. Is preventive care a key part of how you ensure your patients' long-term health and improve the quality time owners get to spend with their pets? If so, this value should guide your discussions and inform everything from how to increase compliance to how to talk to owners about why routine blood work is important.

By integrating this value into everything you do, you'll empower team members to talk openly with clients and reaffirm the importance of what everyone in your practice does and is working toward.

Give your new hire the opportunity to take part in developing new processes. One of the advantages of coming from outside the clinic is the ability to bring new ideas to the table and provide an outside perspective on the way you do things. New veterinary team members can find it hard to speak up, which can be frustrating for them and can let your clinic miss out on an opportunity to improve. As part of training, set aside time to talk about their ideas and how they've seen things done differently elsewhere.

As they settle in, you can also offer opportunities to lead challenges, like increasing fecal compliance or reducing waste. The more engagement and ownership you can provide, the stronger the bonds you can build.

Listen and Address Feedback

As with many other areas of your practice, veterinary hiring and onboarding are continually improving processes. As a final part of bringing in a new team member, make sure you talk to them about what worked and what challenges they faced.

When you lose a new staff member, find out why your clinic didn't meet their expectations, so you have a chance to improve the workplace. For those who have stayed, find out what's worked best for them and where you could change things.

Building an environment that supports new hires will make your whole team feel valued, and hopefully, you'll become the clinic they recommend to friends or former colleagues looking for work, making hiring easier in the first place. Just make sure to listen to your team, address their feedback, and aim to improve the working environment to retain and engage employees over the short and long terms.

Des Whittall
Practice Manager

Des Whittall is an owner and manager of two veterinary clinics and pet resorts in Texas. A software engineer by training, he worked with an investment bank for 13 years in roles ranging from technical support to business divestment, managing large international teams and complex vendor relationships. With his partner, he has grown the clinics and resorts and is focused on developing businesses that can provide high-quality medicine and development opportunities for their teams.

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