Put Retention Strategies to Work

March 2024 |

Three ways to survive and thrive in a challenging staffing environment.

There are many reasons to put staff retention at the top of your priority list.

For one, a shortage of both veterinarians and veterinary staff is expected in the next decade. A 2021 report from Mars Veterinary Health predicts that there will be a 16% overall shortfall of veterinarians in pet healthcare by 2030, and that it would take more than 30 years of graduates to meet the 10-year industry need for credentialed veterinary technicians.

Meanwhile, the average veterinary team’s turnover is estimated at 23% per year, and the average cost to replace a veterinary staff member can be up to $10,000, according to AAHA’s most recent “Compensation and Benefits” report.

“We need to recognize that the market is voting with its feet,” says Dave Nicol, BVMS, MRCVS, a veterinary growth expert and founder of VetX International.  “It’s either because people don’t like the jobs that we have on offer, or because the jobs on offer are too much for our workforce as things stand, and people are reaching a breaking point and leaving.”

Nicol suggests a three-part solution:

1. Care for your team. And that doesn’t mean just buying them pizza for lunchtime meetings. “That’s not caring for your people—that’s bribing them so they come to the meeting,” Nicol says. “Truly caring for them means spending time with them as their leader.” That includes:

  • Building programs of wellness and healthcare so they get the support they need
  • Giving them time for breaks—not just time to have lunch
  • Creating flexible workspaces that are safe, inclusive and diverse.

2. Control the crazy. This means getting intentional about who you serve, how many people you’re willing to serve, and which services you’re going to offer, so that you’ll be much more in control of your environment. Decide what it is you stand for. Why do you exist as a business? What is your mission? Then build your business around that vision and your strengths.

“We don’t have to be all things to all people,” Nicol says. “It’s the chaos that’s causing the stress, and it’s the stress that’s causing the burnout. So if we control the crazy upstream, then the downstream effects on our teams will be much reduced.”

3. Broadcast your culture. “Once you control the crazy and start caring for your people, you’ll start to build a culture that people really enjoy and engage with working in,” says Nicol. “And that’s when you can take it to the market.” Think about how you can communicate your culture to the job market in a way that far beats simply posting a job advertisement, he suggests.

Instead, tell the stories of your business across the marketspace, using your website and your social media channels to amplify your employer brand. “We’ve been OK at marketing to clients. We need to divert some of those resources and start marketing to our future teammates and thinking much longer term,” says Nicol.

Those three steps, Nicol believes, will make a true difference, giving you an edge in both retention and recruiting. “When you control the crazy, when you create an environment that’s caring, and when you broadcast that into the marketplace, you will become an island of excellence—a bright light in an otherwise dark sky,” he says. “And you will have a queue of people who will want to work in your business. It will be that different.”

Control the workload

Part of preventing burnout means putting structures in place to make the workload sustainable for your team. For example, Nicol created overlapping shifts in his practice: One shift goes from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and another starts at noon and finishes at 8 p.m. “That way we can get examinations happening all through the day,” he says. He also implemented a rolling schedule with staff members taking turns working half-days on Saturdays every few weeks, and he has contracted with other service providers to cover after-hours calls.

For more information, check out Dr. Nicol’s podcasts.