It finally happened. The veterinarian shortage and veterinary technician shortage that they’ve always talked about for the last 20 years. If you look in today’s clinical practice it is almost impossible to find staff. The classified ads are full and the world during COVID has seemed to expedite this market. Yes, it is truly a buyer’s market if you’re looking for a job.
A few months ago, our family had a slight scare as there was a potential COVID exposure at our daughter’s daycare. As a family, we decided it would be best to keep her home during the month while vaccinations were just beginning to be dispensed. As far as making this work, it was a bit of a scheduling challenge. Fortunately, both my wife and I have bosses who were quite understanding and very gracious in allowing us to make this happen. We were both able to alter our schedules so that one of us was home all day during the course of the week. This essentially meant much longer shifts when we were at work, some as long as 10 to 12 hour days but it was worth it. The time that we each had with our young daughter was a gift. We were able to keep her safe and at the same time get to enjoy some everyday family time with her. This was time I had missed out on during her first year while I was working… and I loved it.
It got me to thinking how in today’s veterinary market can employers become a more attractive option for potential employees? For full disclosure, I am not a business owner. These ideas are just some things I’m spit-balling as potential options that some employers and employees may find to be mutually attractive and beneficial.
1. Time off and scheduling
From my own experience, a slight rearrangement of scheduling and a cut back on some days working was a wonderful relief. I was still able to maintain what would be considered a full-time working status. Veterinarians and technicians are often known for being workaholics. We have that personality and drive. Our focus is to help our patients and help our fellow team members. At times this can become a bit of a detriment as both people I’ve known (and myself) have worked 50-60 hour weeks, skipped vacations, and missed out on important things – at a detriment to our general well health and being. Instead, try having a look at a three or four-day workweek schedule. Though the days may be longer, the days off are so worth it.
2. Dollar dollar bills y’all
For ages, jobs have often been defined by how much you make. Don’t get me wrong; money is good but it can only motivate people so far. Eventually, they reach the threshold where their well-being is no longer worth it. In today’s society, many people worry about what the future will hold. As it is for many technicians in a clinic, their average career span seems to only be around five years before they move on to a different job in a different field altogether. This is largely a result of clinic life no longer being financially feasible for them to do a job they love while having their spirits and bodies broken by the day-to-day grind.
For veterinarians, gone are the days where you might work for somebody for 5 to 10 years before you get to become a practice owner yourself. Selling a practice was often a means of funding your retirement. To be brutally honest, people these days are horrible with money and the whole idea of saving up is lost on many. Why don’t we look at ways of providing different financial incentives? I’m talking about pensions, 401(k)s, and RRSPs that employees can contribute to but also the employers match to a certain percentage. Every little bit helps and makes the long-term job satisfaction a bit better in my opinion.
One other financially incentive idea is profit-sharing. There are different ways this is figured out and distributed but if everyone gets a little extra slice of the pie, the staff may feel a lot better knowing that their hard work will be rewarded. Ultimately, they may be a lot more inclined to put in some extra effort without any begrudging.
3. Moving on up! To the east side?
Nope, just within the business. Some staff members are content with their role in the clinic but others want more. We should embrace both groups as they are important pieces of the team. Technicians may want to specialize. Vet assistants may want to take on more responsibilities or even consider going back to school for a technician or doctor program. Client care representatives may want to move into a management role. Nobody can work forever so it benefits us to train someone to help out when someone retires or is out sick – especially if for a prolonged time. If there are ways to move up and expand a skill set, employers should identify those staff members and provide them with the tools to become a more integral part of the clinic. This can improve job satisfaction as well as better financial well-being for both the employee and the clinic.
4. Clean house
Many clinics have that one employee… you know the one who has been there X number of years and is the best technician, receptionist, or manager you’ve ever had. Except that employee drives the rest of the staff crazy and creates a toxic work environment. It may be hard to swallow, but it’s time they move on. I know we’re talking about adding employees but it’ll be much easier to hire if you have a happier atmosphere and the worker who dragged down morale is gone.
The last 20 months have been exhausting yet rewarding. Think about how many pets and families we’ve been able to help! Now we need rest and hope that relief is on the way. While we may ask clients for their patience, it will likely come down to appropriate staffing in the clinic to alleviate the stress. Owners (whether private or corporate) have the power to transform the profession moving forward and make the job more variably rewarding than cuddling kittens and puppies though that is an awesome perk of the job!