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Veterinary Forum December 2008 (Vol 25, No 12)

Business Skills — The 3Rs of staff retention

by Peter Weinstein, Stephen Cory Fisher, DVM, Tara Hammond, DVM, DACVECC, Jennifer L. Holm, DVM, DACVECC

    Today one of the greatest challenges in professional sports is the ability to keep a winning team together from year to year. Is your practice a model of the old sports teams, or are you emulating the revolving door model of the 21st century? Staff retention can have an amazing impact on client retention, and client retention portends well for your business in any economic environment.

    So, what can you do to keep your team together? There is no absolute answer, but I have found that if you adhere to the following 3Rs, you can significantly increase your retention rate:

    1. Respect

    2. Responsibility

    3. Recognition

    In surveys of employees from all industries, money is usually no higher than fifth on the list of the reasons that employees stay. Rather, the "intangibles" are apparently what make a company an "employer of choice."


    Anyone who works for a veterinary hospital, whether cleaning cages, putting in catheters or answering phones, can earn respect simply by doing an efficient job. However, to encourage team members to perform at their highest level, management needs to show the highest level of respect in return. As those in leadership roles treat the team with respect, so shall the team treat the clients.

    Therefore, respect should be in the practice's core values and standards. Respect is management showing staff members how they are appreciated. Respect is seeking input from team members on important hospital decisions, including new programs, new fees and new hires. Respect means:

    • Addressing problems immediately when they arise. Don't ignore or defer issues that seem trite to you but may be energy-zappers for someone else.
    • Delegating more responsibility to encourage people to contribute more. Offering more responsibility is a show of respect and appreciation. Empowerment is one of the greatest means of showing respect that management can give.

    Of importance, make sure that you do not ignore or fail to recognize the contributions of long-term employees. The fact that someone has worked for you for awhile does not mean he or she should not continue to receive ongoing respect.

    Action Item: Praise in public, punish in private.


    Take the time to train employees so they can achieve a high level of trust and competency. Ensure that each team member can perform his or her duties, and empower an individual to delegate responsibilities if necessary. In addition, encouraging staff to grow on the job helps each employee achieve a feeling of upward mobility and long-term career opportunities. Such responsibility and empowerment also can boost an employee's ego and self-respect in addition to on-the-job performance.

    The only limitations to what responsibilities can be delegated and released are dictated on the clinical side by state law and regulations and on the management side by the level of trust empowered to employees.

    Action Item: Identify which tasks/responsibilities can be released to others to allow them to grow.


    Mark Twain probably said it best: "I can live for two months on a good compliment." That is what recognition is all about — behavior rewarded is behavior repeated.

    Saying "hello" and "thank you" are simple acts that can go a long way. Likewise, noting an employee's effort, not just the outcome, can be important, so give public recognition during staff meetings. Doing so can create a natural "high five" and enhance employee performance.

    Lack of on-the-job praise or recognition can be detrimental not only to the individual but to the entire team. Recognition fosters job satisfaction, builds self-esteem and supports quality.

    A raise, a promotion, a new title, a gift card, public accolades at a staff meeting, compliments, thumbs up — all of these are important in building a lasting practice team.

    Action Item: Take the time to say "thank you" to each team member at the end of the day — with sincerity, of course.

    According to a study conducted at Harvard University, a 5% increase in staff loyalty can lead to a 1.3% increase in client loyalty and 0.5% increase in profitability. On the surface, these statistics may seem insignificant, but in reality 0.5% of a $1 million practice is $5,000 in pure profit.

    Your staff can be your most valuable resource — follow the 3Rs so you can treat them as such.

    NEXT: Client handout — Top 10 Holiday Tips


    Did you know... According to the American Pet Products Association, it is estimated that US owners spent $45.4 billion in 2009 on their pets. Read More

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