Welcome back to Ethos Exchange, our veterinary practice management series. Our next topic: how career pathing and culture contribute to employee retention.
In any industry, employee turnover is an issue worth close consideration. Any company benefits not only from attracting the best talent, but also keeping those employees working and contributing to the company for as long as possible. In the veterinary industry, where stress can be intense and high turnover can cause significant problems with staffing and the quality of patient care, turnover is an area of special concern.
As employers, we must then ask ourselves: what can we do to help retain our best employees? This Harvard Business Review article discusses a Glassdoor review of the reasons employees were most likely to quit their jobs, or seek work elsewhere. The results may surprise you. While rate of pay did of course factor into some decisions, more workers were concerned with career pathing and company culture. Having a strong sense of career progression, support in that progression, and a positive culture around that were strong indicators that an employee would stay, while career stagnation was one of the leading reasons for leaving. While the article was from 2017, the reasons employees choose to stay or leave have been surprisingly constant over time.
This article tracks with what we have seen here at Ethos. According to a recent Gallup survey of our employees, aside from personal reasons, career progression rated higher than any other factor in deciding to remain with the company. While rate of pay does matter – especially if it does not increase over time – a clear career path, opportunities for growth, and a supportive culture remain top concerns for our employees when deciding whether to stay with us, or seek employment elsewhere.
What does career stagnation look like in the veterinary industry?
If we need to be guarding against career stagnation, first we need to acknowledge what that looks like in the veterinary industry. Some examples include:
Lack of upward (or sideways) mobility
Many roles, not just on the veterinary floor but also in administration, only allow for so much upward mobility before there is no further a person can go. This may be especially true for employees not looking to get into management roles. There may not be other clear horizontal shifts to make for someone who isn’t happy in their current role, and would like to try something else.
“With our technicians, if they don’t want to pursue Level 4 or leadership roles, they need to either get their specialty certification, or find a completely different path within the organization. If you don’t want to do that, there are not a lot of paths for them.” – Ann S., Hospital Service Manager at The Oncology Service.
Physical roles that aren’t sustainable long term
Especially in veterinary medicine, many roles are very physical and require strength and stamina to carry out effectively. This can mean the end of a career for someone no longer fit enough to carry out those roles in the physical sense, if no other opportunities are presented to them. This may be true even if their knowledge and experience could prove invaluable to the organization.
How can we foster an environment that promotes career growth?
If career stagnation is a significant factor in employees’ decisions to leave their employer, we must sharpen our focus on career development in order to entice employees to stay and share their valuable skills and experience with the organization. Our discussion yielded several ideas:
Encourage employees to take charge of their own career path
When an organization empowers its employees and listens to their ideas, new paths can open up for both the employees and the organization as a whole. Those on the floor are often in the best position to see which needs remain unfulfilled, and suggest opportunities for career growth that meet those needs.
A recent program at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital created a new remote tech liaison position allowing techs who could not work in their physical roles any longer to still remain active, contributing employees. This idea started with a suggestion from an employee.
“We look for opportunities to let people use their knowledge when they can’t use their bodies any longer. There is a reason in human healthcare that nurses don’t retire at 40; they are using their knowledge and their skills in the way that is best suited for what they have studied. It gives them a sense of growth and purpose.” – Rebecca W, Hospital Services Manager at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital.
Have conversations with employees about their own career desires and dreams, then work to help them achieve their goals
Conversely to the prior point, some employees may not be willing to speak up for themselves unless specifically invited to do so. Managers would do well to seek out conversations with their employees about their career goals, and then work together to make sure the employee has a chance to enhance their skills and experience in a way that moves them toward those goals. This is true even if the employee’s ideal role looks different than the one they are currently in. We can’t assume that what drives one employee looks the same as what drives another.
“I was the quiet one; I was always the person in the back. But by my manager reaching out to me, we connected and I opened up to him. It opened up a dialogue with him that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. The quiet ones have got a lot to say; you just have to reach them.” – Alicia, Senior Practice Partner, People and Organization at Ethos.
Encourage employees to find allies within the organization to help them along their way
While career pathing can be largely self-driven, it also requires collaboration to succeed. Managers should be allies of their employees, but they should encourage those employees to find other allies as well, at different levels of the organization. This could be through a career coach, mentorship program, or just one of their work friends.
“Having someone to go to so that I can ask questions I’m not quite ready to ask the person that I report directly to is important. Going to multiple people and having those resources to turn to has been very helpful for me and my career progression, and understanding how my role and my actions fit into the larger organization.” Jared, Senior Manager, People and Organization at Ethos.
How can we promote a positive company culture?
A clear career path was not employees’ only concern when deciding where to work. A positive and supportive work culture remains one of the most significant factors. Claiming to have a good company culture only goes so far; if employees’ actions don’t match the stated company culture, the best of intentions are meaningless. So how can we foster this kind of positive culture at work?
Model the behavior you wish to see in your employees, and hire employees who also demonstrate that desired behavior
“Values and shared beliefs have to be shared by the leadership at the hospital. If you don’t actively work on culture, one will be created anyway. So focusing on the things you are looking for and wanting in your hospital is imperative. If you build a strong culture, and make a bad hire, those people tend to organically work themselves out of a situation where they’re not a good fit.” Kristi, Hospital Director at Port City Veterinary Referral Hospital.
Help make sure that employees leave at the end of the day feeling satisfied with their work, feeling they’ve done their best and made a difference
“We need to have direct, open, honest conversations, understanding what our employees are here for so we can appeal to those reasons. Some are here for the pets, some are here for the owners. For some it’s just a job. Open conversations allow us to uncover what those motivations are.” – Andrew, Hospital Director at Veterinary Specialty Hospital – North County.
- While individual managers may not have control over pay, there are other important factors that can improve employee retention.
- Career pathing and a positive culture are key to encouraging good employees to stay with the organization.
- It is important both to start conversations with employees about their career goals, and to listen to their ideas. Successful career pathing requires active work and collaboration.
- Positive culture must be modeled by management and employees alike in order to successfully take root in an organization.
Thanks to Jared Katz (Senior Manager, People and Organization) for leading this discussion!
Written by: Alissa Murray, Talent Acquisition Coordinator at Ethos Veterinary Health