Four ways to find out if your support staff pay is competitive in your area.
To avoid costly turnover among your support staff, a key question to ask yourself is whether you are paying them competitively.
“Even for Millennials, pay is king,” says Heather Romano, a veterinary business consultant. “There are a lot of myths out there about how Millennials only care about saving the world and having a job where there’s a purpose—but at the end of the day, they still have bills to pay.”
So what should you be paying your support staff? Romano says this is one of the top questions she’s asked by practice owners and managers. The answer will vary widely depending on your location. “For example, a kennel job might pay minimum wage in a state like Alabama, while in California it could easily be $16 per hour,” she says. “So we’re talking about potentially double the pay, depending on where you are in the country.”
A good rule of thumb, she says, is to pay at least $1 more per hour than your local competition. For a 40-hour-per-week employee, an additional $1 per hour would be $2,000 per year, or about $173 per month. “For most hospitals, that amount is going to have a pretty small effect on your budget,” says Romano, “but it can be a life-changing amount for the employee.”
To find that sweet spot, of course, you have to know what other veterinary practices in your area are paying their support staff. Romano recommends four resources to help you find out:
1. Veterinary medical associations (VMAs). Check with your state’s VMA to see if they have salary information available. “Most VMAs do salary surveys in their state that will help you understand a baseline of what people are making,” says Romano.
2. Practice managers meetings. Attend a practice managers meeting in your area and ask around. “There’s nothing wrong with going to one of these events and saying, ‘Hey, what are you guys paying your technicians? Your assistants? Your receptionists?’” says Romano. “As long as you say, ‘If you tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine,’ they won’t think you’re trying to steal their employees—they’ll just think that you’re making sure that you’re competitive with them as far as pay goes.”
3. Salary sites. For another snapshot, check websites such as payscale.com, salary.com and glassdoor.com. Keep in mind though, cautions Romano, that these “self-reporting” sites don’t verify the information that people enter. “Somebody could log on and say that they’re a receptionist making $100,000 a year and they won’t check it, which would throw off the averages in your area,” she says. “So take the information from those kinds of sites with a grain of salt.”
4. O*NET OnLine. Search this government database (see box) to find average salaries for your area. “The nice thing about this site is that the information is verified,” says Romano. “It’s based on salary information provided to the government when people apply for unemployment, so it’s going to be the most accurate source of information you can find.”
Finally, when deciding what to pay your support staff, recognize their true value to your practice. “Ask yourself how important it is to you to retain them, as opposed to losing them because you didn’t pay them enough,” Romano says. “What we should be thinking about is: ‘How much can I afford to pay these guys?’ Higher pay along with better benefits equals higher loyalty and lower turnover.”
Do a salary search
See how your support staff salaries stack up to the local competition at onetonline.org. Search for a specific position, such as “receptionist,” “veterinary assistant,” “veterinary technician” or “animal caretaker” (aka “kennel technician”).
Click on the result, then scroll down to the “Wages & Employment Trends” section and enter your zip code. You’ll see distribution curves of annual and hourly wages for those positions in your area, plus comparison curves for your state and the United States as a whole.