I firmly believe that 99 percent of the problems in veterinary hospitals can be overcome with better communication. This is a subject that we hear about in our daily lives, not just in our jobs. Communication can solve a lot of management issues, personnel issues, pet owner/veterinarian issues, etc. Yet so many practices act like this is a tough subject to breach. So many managers are managing under the misconception that everything is fine. After working at three veterinary clinics in the past 17 years I can tell you if you aren’t communicating you are going to be dealing with a lot of drama.
1. Communication with staff is key.
When people are left out of the loop , gossip, miscommunication, and mistakes start to happen. Changing a policy is one of the hardest things to breach because most of the time it isn’t delegated properly. Once a decision is made from the owners then that new policy needs to be communicated multiple times to the managers and staff. Word of mouth is not a good option. Memos, emails, and having the direct manager train everyone on a new policy will create less chaos, less confusion, and less mistakes. This may seem like a simple concept but this problem happens daily at most clinics.
2. Once you set a policy do not allow exceptions for certain staff versus other staff.
One way to make an employee feel less valued is to allow a few staff members to change their schedule based of their lifestyle but not allow it for another employee. This creates frustration and the feeling that certain employees are better than others. If you choose to allow exceptions then you must offer the same to all employees. Same goes for associates at the clinic- if you allow one to continue to leave early you cannot get mad at the other for asking for the same exception.
3. If a staff member quits, gets fired, or is taking time off you need to inform everyone at the clinic.
It sounds ridiculous but many clinics will hide this information or not acknowledge that a staff member left and it creates a lot of gossip and misinformation spread around the office. You do not need to give anyone specific details but informing staff can save you a lot of grief later on. Same concept goes for if someone new is hired- let staff know a week before they are supposed to start so they are aware of the changes.
4. Do not hide internal conflict or its resolution.
If two employees get into a shouting match or one feels uncomfortable by the others actions you need to inform those employees when the conflict has been resolved. If nothing is ever said or a meeting is never set up then those employees and the people who witnessed the conflict will assume that either you don’t care, you took one persons side over the other, or they will start believing that the staff can just walk all over the owners without punishment.
5. Follow up on feedback.
If you have a suggestion box make sure you are communicating with the people who make suggestions that their ideas were discussed and appreciated. Many employees will feel like their ideas were brushed off if they are never brought up in monthly meeting or if they are never asked to help with a solution. All it takes is the acknowledgement to make an employee feel valued.
6. Obviously, communication with clients is very important.
A lot of owners only half listen to what you are telling them. It’s not that they don’t care or understand but you are throwing a lot of information at them when they are already stressed about their animal. Make sure that your technicians go over the information a second time and also make sure that you send home discharge instructions going over what was discussed. When it comes to paperwork just having a technician or receptionist go over everything is detail can alleviate a lot of frustration later on.
Many managers and owners right now are saying to themselves, “what does this person know, she isn’t a manager or an owner”. That is true but I have also worked in veterinary clinics since I was 15 and had the chance to work in every single position- from kennel to veterinarian. After 17 years, hundreds of clinic meetings, hundreds of doctor meeting, and becoming friends with multiple staff members that have either left or are in process of leaving, I can tell you that communication, or lack there of, is what is causing 99% of the stress in your clinic. Open communication is best- forgetting to inform staff members of even the smallest things can cause a feeling of uncertainty around the clinic.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
Dr. Nicole Palumbo is a 2012 graduate from University of Illinois. She is originally from the south side of Chicago but chose to move to Northwest Pennsylvania for her first job out of veterinary school, where she currently is still employed. She works with small animals, exotics, and also volunteers her time at the local wildlife rescue, typically performing surgeries and exams on the many raptors that are admitted to the facility. With time she hopes to focus more time on wildlife medicine and also obtain specialization in feline medicine.