How a Poor Performer Can Create a Toxic Veterinary Workplace

It's never easy for a veterinary practice manager to fire someone. However, there's no overlooking poor performance. Keeping a problematic employee can lead to a toxic veterinary workplace — and will do your practice more harm than good.

Denial Won't Help

As a veterinary practice manager, you may realize that you have a poor performer, but then put off doing what is necessary. Why wait to solve what is obviously a pressing issue? Well, you may have come up with a bunch of excuses to delay letting that staff member go:

You dread conflict. Actively avoiding conflict means you're failing to address poor performance, despite the warning signs.

You like the person. Perhaps you genuinely like the employee; the person may have a good attitude. Maybe you even hope that the employee will somehow turn things around and start performing better.

You're "too busy." Practice managers are busy people. Maybe you've convinced yourself that you simply won't have the time to hire and train a new person.

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Whatever roadblocks you've created to avoid conflict, failing to confront the situation will do nothing to help the practice, either in the short term or in the long term.

Is Being Short-Staffed Better?

Wait a minute, you might be thinking. Hiring in the veterinary profession right now is not easy.

True. According to DVM 360, the unemployment rate in the veterinary profession is extremely low at the moment, and it is difficult to find qualified candidates. However, that does not mean that keeping bad performers is better than firing them.

Here are the three main things that suffer within a practice when a poor performer is allowed to remain on the team, contributing to a toxic workplace:

1. Employee morale

A poor performer can bring everyone down. If they consistently miss deadlines or make mistakes, then they affect the other employees in the practice, including the manager. Encountering poor performance every day can wear a team down. And if the poor performer has a bad attitude on top of everything else, that makes the situation all the more caustic. Ultimately, retaining a poor performer puts your practice at risk of driving away your high performers.

2. Company culture

Employee morale is a big part of the culture of your practice. If morale takes a hit, then the culture takes a hit. When employee morale is suffering, the people who work for the organization start to dread going to work. That is the "beginning of the end" of a good culture. If they're not looking forward to going to work, then they probably also can't wait to leave work, and will likely expend the least amount of effort necessary to get through the day.

So now, by keeping a poor performer, you've essentially lowered the performance of others in the practice, and thereby contributed to this toxic veterinary workplace.

3. Customer satisfaction

This is the big one, because if there's one thing worse than losing good employees, it's losing good customers. And when you have poor employee morale, declining employee performance, and a deficient company culture, then you'd better believe that customer satisfaction is going to suffer, as well. The long-term health and well-being of the practice depend upon the satisfaction of its customers.

In the veterinary profession, repeat customers are vital. So are word-of-mouth customers. People want to take their pets to a place they can trust. That's why customer satisfaction is so important. Without repeat customers, and without current customers telling others how great your practice is, your business will inevitably suffer. That means fewer appointments, less revenue, and less profit.

The Bottom Line

With customer loyalty, professional credibility, employee satisfaction, and practice revenue at stake, you have every reason to let go of that poor performer and do all you can to hire a top candidate.

It might be difficult, and yes, it might take time and effort you don't believe you even have. But the alternative — a toxic veterinary workplace — is far less attractive and could very well damage your practice, in terms of both reputation and viability.


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Stacy Pursell
Founder, President of The VET Recruiter ®

Stacy Pursell is an executive search consultant and recruiter with more than 20 years of experience serving the animal health industry and veterinary profession. In addition to being a talent scout, she is a workplace/workforce expert, a certified personnel consultant (CPC), and certified employee retention specialist (CERS). Stacy builds world-class animal health and veterinary organizations. She helps companies of all sizes throughout the United States and Canada locate, recruit, and hire the best talent for their specific needs.

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