How to Keep Your Veterinary Staff Happy

Maintaining high morale among your veterinary team is critical to a positive practice culture. Not only does a happy, satisfied team provide better customer service and patient care, but it also creates greater resilience and well-being over the long term. On the flip side, an unhappy team will likely lapse into old patterns that don't serve its members—or the practice—well.

10 Ways to Raise Employee Morale in Your Veterinary Practice

It's important to invest time and effort in improving your veterinary staff morale, at least in the areas you can actively control to counterbalance the ones you can't. Here are 10 ways you can improve your team's happiness and satisfaction.

1. Encourage Open Dialogue

You might think you have a firm grasp on the challenges your team faces, but there's a good chance you're in the dark about a few things. How will you know if you don't ask? Find a time to sit down and explain to your team that you want to hear from them about what would make their jobs better, easier, and more satisfying. If they're not comfortable sharing their views face-to-face, set up a way to obtain the input anonymously to encourage full honesty. Perhaps most importantly, demonstrate that you're actively listening, as few things are more frustrating than being asked what is troubling you only to see the response blown off or go nowhere. That doesn't mean you must bend to every wish, but encouraging open communication may reveal opportunities and inspire ideas to elevate both team morale and practice performance.

2. Demonstrate Gratitude

Celebrating individual and team accomplishments can go a long way toward fostering a positive work atmosphere, especially when they don't expect it. There are endless ways to show appreciation for your employees, from simple thank yous to more elaborate demonstrations. For example, you can buy everyone their favorite coffee one morning, set up an ice cream sundae bar one afternoon, slip gift cards in mailboxes, or award half-day holidays. The greatest impact will come from choosing options that show you know your team members personally and speak to their individual needs.

3. Invite Involvement

Instead of just making or adjusting policies with management and doctors, reach out to the team for their input before making any final decisions. Giving your team members a voice makes them feel like their opinion matters while also providing a sense of ownership over the practice as a whole. Furthermore, involving more of the team often may spawn some great ideas on top of the team building.

4. Protect From Abuse

It is unfortunate that, at times, your team members may not be given the same respect that doctors earn from pet owners. No doubt they are already painfully aware of it, so start by recognizing the issue and encouraging the respect they deserve. Make sure your clientele understand how your team's knowledge, skills, and experience keep pets happy and healthy by promoting it on your website, social media, and in person. When a client steps over the line, put a stop to it immediately in front of your team and remind the client that all team members—from receptionists and cleaners to technicians and doctors—are critical to their pet's health and deserve respect. Demonstrating this support, even in the face of clients, sends a clear message that the team comes first and abuse is never tolerated.

5. Provide Continuing Education

Leveling up the skills of your team is a great way to inspire confidence and satisfaction along with improved performance. You can do this in a number of ways, whether by taking the time personally to provide the education and tools necessary for growth, bringing in outside experts to run training sessions, or pointing your team to the ample opportunities and resources available at the American Veterinary Medical Association, for instance. You might even provide the time off and pay any associated costs to demonstrate your commitment to continuing education.

6. Support Mental Health

Self-care and stress management are critical to preventing burnout. These efforts need to go beyond just flagging resources; instead, take the time to consciously integrate mitigators into your operations. This can mean committing to more regular one-on-one meetings with team members, making mental health professionals available, offering more days off, or simply providing head-healthy snacks and exercise opportunities. At the very least, make mental health and personal well-being an essential part of the discussion.

7. Increase Salaries

If anything speaks louder than words, it's wages. Make sure you are paying your employees fairly and well—in line with, or slightly above, the going rates in the wider industry and practice region. Higher wages may mean lower short-term profits, but the long-term gain that comes with a stable and motivated team far exceeds it. Budget what you need for increases to still maintain your profit margins, but remember to invest in your number one asset: your employees.

8. Expand Benefits

Provide benefits that make it possible for your team to practice self-care and maintain a healthy work-life balance. This can mean improving your health insurance option, giving more paid time off, or providing healthy food subscriptions and gym memberships, just to name a few things. Allowing more remote or hybrid work options may also help polish any rough edges in morale.

9. Clarify Mission

Does everyone know what the mission of your veterinary practice is? Is it preventative care, compassionate care, or something else? If there's any question on the mission, make capturing and conveying it a top priority. This first means crafting a clear statement and then sharing it with the team, while perhaps reinforcing it with signs in the practice, email messaging, and posts on the website and social media. With repetition, it may then become a mantra. If your mission statement exists, take the opportunity to review and revise it, perhaps with the help of the greater team. This not only supports team bonding and engagement but also keeps everyone focused on a common goal.

10. Appraise—and Praise—Team Members

Just as not everyone learns the same way, team members may respond differently to the same kind of motivation. Some may thrive on regular kind words; others may be put off by the increased attention. Take the time to learn the individual personalities of your team members rather than seeing them as a single unit, which practice owners can easily slip into. Consider having each team member complete a form during onboarding that asks a range of questions to bring out their preferences. Veterinary games and activities can also help bring these out, too, while injecting a lot of fun into the day.

The Sum Is Greater Than Its Parts

When it comes to keeping your veterinary staff happy, there's no single fix. Instead, it takes a wide-ranging effort that's thoughtful and consistent. As with the best group dynamics, the results of happy individuals working together far exceed the effort of producing them. The benefits are also felt by all, especially those at the receiving end of the care: the patients.

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Meg Oliver

Meg Oliver is a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager in New York with over 26 years experience in veterinary medicine. She manages a four doctor practice and writes for several veterinary publications. In her free time, she enjoys time with her husband, daughter and twin boys.

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