As a veterinarian going through an MBA program at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, I have had the incredible opportunity to explore how business concepts and ideas used in large companies can apply to veterinary hospitals. 

Prioritizing employees as stakeholders

One of the major projects assigned during my first semester centered around prioritizing stakeholders. Before I lose you at the word “stakeholder,” hear me out—I promise it is relevant to veterinary medicine. Stakeholders comprise all of the groups who rely on a specific business to be successful. It’s like a beautiful symbiotic relationship in that both parties need each other to survive. In veterinary hospitals, this typically includes clients (i.e., pet owners), employees, suppliers (i.e., vendors), the community (i.e., neighborhoods and towns), shareholders (i.e., the business owner, or those who own stock), and pets. For example, with supplier symbiosis, if you stop paying your vendor bills in a reasonable time frame, that vendor can refuse to provide products, which will negatively affect your business. Alternatively, if your hospital goes under, your vendors lose an income source, which negatively affects their business. Part of my project involved determining which stakeholders should be prioritized in a major business (in this case, we analyzed CVS)—choosing only three was difficult, but necessary! 

As my project team spent time arguing and convincing each other about which stakeholders we should prioritize, it struck me that every single person thought employees should be included  in the top three stakeholders for our chosen company. This project also fell right during the “Great Resignation” and we had some excellent discussions about the critical contributions of our local and national workforce to the economy. Ultimately, the winning arguments maintained that employees are the most critical and influential aspect of a customer-facing industry. Without them, shareholders and suppliers can’t be paid, customers can’t be served, and profits can’t be made. Communities are negatively impacted as the services can no longer be provided. The ripple effect of a dwindling workforce greatly impacts all stakeholders. So what can the veterinary industry do? I think Richard Branson said it best: Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business”.

Shifting to an employee-focused business culture

The veterinary industry has historically chosen a customer-focused business strategy, illustrated by our overly people-pleasing habits and “profits over people” narrative that have been present for decades. This approach has, over time, minimized our employees’ value and likely contributed to significant discontent. 

Many practices also erroneously focus on short-term profit, instead of long-term benefits. For example, I remember hearing about a local veterinary hospital that employed a notoriously difficult veterinarian. Technicians feared him because he would yell, throw things, and be downright ornery when something didn’t go his way. But, the hospital never fired him because he made a lot of money for the company. I’d argue that this is a very short-sighted approach. Sure, this vet was financially productive, but his negative effects on team morale, turnover, and hospital culture were enormous. In this case, short-term revenue was prioritized over long-term hospital culture, sustainability, and profit. How much did this toxic veterinarian cost the hospital in staff turnover? What about the mental health costs to the team members? What was the cost to the patients? While we may never know the exact costs, I believe we are seeing similar results play out in our industry today, as people elect to stay out of the workforce rather than subjecting themselves to a toxic culture, and feeling undervalued. 

Putting people first—trust me, you’ll reap the rewards!

Prioritizing your employees makes obvious business sense, but how do you get there? Here are several practices you can put into place to show your employees how much you value them:

  • Support their wellbeing — Providing health benefits, employee assistance programs,  diversity and inclusion training, and options for mental health and psychological assistance will help support your employees’ physical and mental health.
  • Set accountability standards — Holding employees accountable for their actions and behaviors prevents your good employees from carrying the load for underperforming employees, which can lead to bitterness and resentment.
  • Prioritize employee safety — Upholding OSHA-aligned safety protocols for healthy client interactions, pet handling, and facility maintenance shows that you care about your employees’ health and welfare. 
  • Cover the basic necessities — Providing basic human comforts, such as a predictable schedule, reasonable hours, meal breaks, and clean facilities, will also support your employees’ wellbeing.
  • Communicate clearly — Communicating directly and honestly, such as giving regular performance feedback and recognition of hard work, fosters trust and appreciation. 
  • Support professional development — Providing clear job expectations, and supporting employees’ career growth by investing time and money in training, will help them reach their full potential.
  • Have fun together — Hosting celebrations, team activities, and bonding time will help your employees blow off steam and relax. 
  • Promote financial stability — Providing fair compensation, including bonuses, will help your employees maintain a comfortable standard of living.
  • Offer schedule flexibility — Offering convenient shifts, remote work options, and an easy time-off request process will demonstrate your commitment to a healthy work-life balance. 
  • Show genuine interest — Caring for your team includes knowing who they are as individuals, and what matters to them. Hold regular one-on-one formal and informal meetings to discuss their opinions and ideas, and have their back when they look to you for support.

Veterinary employees are the backbone of your business, patient care, customer care, and operational success. Without skilled, happy employees, the circle of care you provide to patients is incomplete. Happy team members, and a healthy hospital culture, attract new team members, which will help you become more profitable, and care for more patients. Ultimately, employees should top the list of stakeholders in your practice. 

At Inspire Veterinary Partners, we put every employee first, from CSRs to veterinarians, through the above practices and by going even further and offering them equity in their practice. Contact us to learn more about how prioritizing your employees can set you up for long-term success.