Veterinary Management Resource Library

Content Categories:


July 10, 2018
July 5, 2017

Fifteen Ways to Enhance Employee Retention

Mark Opperman

Most practice owners monitor the number of new clients entering their practice. This is an important number to know and I would say that it is just as important, or maybe more important, as knowing how many of those clients stay with your practice. This is the bonding rate of clients to your practice. I would even call it the success rate of your practice.

Maybe this concept should also be applied to the team members in your practice. You may be expending a great deal of time, money and effort to attract new, top-notch employees to your hospital but how well are you at retaining these team members once they are hired? Do you have a high turnover of employees or do you retain team members long term? This is also a success factor of your practice.

It is an unfortunate fact that, in veterinary medicine, we typically don’t pay the highest of salaries to our employees. And while money can certainly affect employee retention, it is not the number one reason why people choose to stay or leave. The real reason has to do with job satisfaction. We have much to offer employees beyond the wages we can pay them.  

Studies have found that for every employee we lose, we will spend an equivalent of more than one year of their salary in recruitment and training costs. It takes a significant investment of time and money for you to seek out, hire and train new team members. Rather than make that investment over and over again, put that time and effort into retaining those employees who have proven themselves to be excellent members of your practice’s team. Here are fifteen tried and proven ideas that you might consider incorporating in your practice to enhance employee retention.

  1. Ask Your Healthcare Team.  Maybe one of the simplest things you can do to improve your employee retention rate is to ask your employees about their work environment and what is important to them. You can do this in a formal or an informal way. I might suggest that at your next staff meeting you give every employee a “What’s Important to You” form and ask them to fill it out and turn it back in. Let employees tell you what is most important to them and then you, as a manager or practice owner, can use this information to enhance their work environment.

  2. Train for Success. I’ve not found any studies on the subject but I am certain that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between lack of training and high turnover rate of employees. You set your team members up for failure when you do not provide them with proper training. In my experience, I have found the most effective method to train employees is to utilize phased training programs. Phased training programs separate an employee’s training into phases, so that employees are introduced to and trained in different aspects of their job gradually, usually over the course of three to four weeks. The employee masters a number of tasks before moving on to the next phase. This methodical approach allows for a much deeper level of comprehension. I believe this could be the best investment you can make to enhance team member retention.

  3. Set Clear Expectations. Satisfied team members know what is expected of them every day at work. Make sure job descriptions are up to date, conduct routine performance reviews, and set specific expectations for your team members. A simple but effective tool is to hold “daily rounds” every morning, so the day’s plan can be set out and everyone knows what is going on and what they need to do.

  4. Base Wages on Performance Instead of Longevity. Maybe one of the most demoralizing things you can do as a practice owner or manager is to give out raises based solely on longevity. Higher performing employees will resent the longevity raise while marginal employees will be reinforced for their inferior performance. Wage increases need to be based on performance and set criteria. In fact, all team members should know ahead of time what is expected of them and on what basis they will be evaluated. Provide each team member with their evaluation form at the beginning of the evaluation period so they know exactly what criteria their evaluation will be based on.

  5. Involve Your Team in the Decision Process.  Everyone wants to be involved in the decision-making process. Whenever you decide to incorporate a new service or change a policy in your hospital, try to solicit the input of as many team members as possible. If appropriate, you might even form committees or small groups to research the impact of a new service or policy and have them report back to management. You will have much greater acceptance and support if you involve your team in the decision making process.

  6. Encourage Feedback from Your Team. Ask for ideas and then discuss how they help patients, client service, and what the overall benefits will be to the team and the practice. Show respect and appreciation to those team members who take the time to share with you what they believe will help the practice, encourage their contributions and reward them.

  7. Walk Your Talk! Employees want a boss they can respect. If you are the practice owner or practice manager, you need to set the standard. For example, if you come in late or miss your own staff meetings, what kind of message are you sending to your employees? If you ask your employees to be in uniform and behave professionally while at work, then so must you. Leaving a room dirty or walking by a cage where the patient has urinated or defecated and not cleaning it up sends a very negative and dangerous message to your team. Set the standard and others will follow.

  8. Celebrate It. Look for opportunities to celebrate your success!  Did you have a highly successful dental month? Did you increase the number of new clients or average per client transaction beyond expectations? Did a client send a note or gift, or say something nice about an employee? Take this opportunity to celebrate the team’s success. You can also celebrate team member’s anniversaries and their accomplishments, such as graduations or engagements.

  9. Four Quarters. Here is a simple trick to remind yourself about the importance of positive reinforcement and, hopefully, help to make it an everyday habit. At the start of each day, place four quarters in your left pocket.  Every time you make a genuine compliment to a team member move one of the quarters from your left pocket to your right. The goal is to have all four quarters in your right pocket every night when you go home (no cheating by spending the quarters). 

  10. Give Out Surprise Incentives. Once during a consultation, as the practice manager was giving me a tour of the hospital, we witnessed an employee outside picking up some trash in the parking lot on her way into the building. The manager immediately ran to her office and, when the employee entered the building, she offered to exchange the trash for a $20 movie gift certificate. I was impressed and so was the employee. Be prepared to reward great behavior and watch for opportunities to show your appreciation when a team member does something above and beyond normal expectations. The team member will be delighted to get an unexpected gift, but even more impressed that you have noticed their efforts in the practice. Fill your desk drawer with rewards such as movie tickets, ice cream gift certificates, candy and other things that your team might appreciate and be prepared to surprise team members when you see an opportunity arise.

  11. It’s Okay to Have Fun! I remember one consultation when things had begun to get a little tense. To my astonishment, the practice owner suddenly pulled out a water pistol and started shooting his employees. In response, the employees all ran to their hiding places, pulled out their own water pistols and returned fire! As you might imagine, the tension very quickly evaporated. You’re allowed to have fun at work. When I survey team members of a practice about the most positive aspects of their jobs, employees often state it is the fun and lighthearted atmosphere that makes them enjoy coming into work each day. Here’s an idea: how about taking your team to a paint ball arcade or bowling alley for an afternoon? Create a smile board with funny pictures, silly stories and happy faces and put it in the treatment area for everyone to enjoy. Have everyone bring in a baby picture and try to match the pictures to the employees. Go ahead and have fun. You’ll find that not only will you have happier employees – you may be happier as well.

  12. Praise, Praise and More Praise. Yes, you have heard it before, but there is a reason for that-- it is true. The most powerful tool you have at your disposal to motivate your team and help with staff retention is positive reinforcement. Let your team know when they have done a good job. Simple phrases like “thank you,” “I appreciate that” and “you are awesome” go a long way. Unfortunately, another comment I often hear during practice consultation is: “My employer is quick to criticize and slow to praise.” Make a resolution now to turn that around by reinforcing your employees. Never fail to tell them you appreciate them and all that they do for you and your patients. It is music to their ears!

  13. Consider Enhancing Your Employee Benefits. I really wish we in the veterinary profession paid our employees more and hopefully someday in the future we will, but until such a time there are other things we can do to improve employee retention. Maybe you could increase the number of personal days, vacation days or paid time off an employee receives. Or you might offer to pay a greater percentage of their personal health insurance or veterinary care for their personally owned pets. Today many veterinary practices are looking at the benefits they provide to their employees and seeing what they can do to enhance them. One such benefit would be to provide each full-time employee with their own birthday off as a paid holiday. It won’t cost a lot, but may be greatly appreciated by your employees.

  14. Know Why Team Members Leave. Whether your practice has high turnover or not, wouldn’t you like to know why team members leave your hospital? I am a strong proponent of exit interviews for all employees who leave your practice – regardless of why you think they are leaving. At what other time in their employment will an employee be more honest with you? Since they have nothing to lose, they are often inclined to share things you would normally never hear and give their candid opinions about the practice. This may provide you with insight about what is really going on within your practice that you might not get at any other time. Remember, knowledge is power, so don’t pass up this opportunity.

  15. Change Your Mindset. Lastly, if you have high turnover, is it you or your management team that might be the problem? One of the more memorable clients I’ve worked with was a veterinarian who came into work one day and, upon looking at his appointment schedule, immediately became very angry with his receptionist. He demanded to know why the receptionist had booked so many appointments and surgeries for that day and then proceeded to complain all day long about the clients he had to see and the hours he worked. What was interesting about this individual was that one of his biggest complaints to me was that the staff did not care about the clients and they provided poor customer service! It all starts at the top, no matter if you are Bill Marriott or the owner of your own veterinary hospital.    


Again, I consider employee retention to be a key factor in the success of any veterinary practice. I hope you will try one or more of these ideas in your own practice. It may be counter-intuitive, but wages are usually not the reason that most employees choose whether or not to stay at a practice. Many times it is the little things that employees notice and that make the greatest difference.

Return to Category Page