When I was a baby veterinary practice manager, I thought that a pizza party could cure everything, even in a crisis. You probably know the scene: Staff are scattering frantically in treatment while appointments are running behind. You can hear the phones ringing nonstop like a nagging mosquito in your ear that you can’t ignore. Now the dental patient has a complicated extraction, an emergency is en route, and everyone is working through lunch.
As I would waltz in with pizza boxes and remind everyone to grab a plate, I thought that I was really making a difference and showing the team I appreciated them. But in reality, their heads were spinning and they barely had time to scarf down a slice, let alone feel the gratitude I was trying to express.
When veterinary team members receive regular and effective appreciation, it contributes to higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity, improved relationships between employees, and decreased risk of burnout.
Read on for three tips to more effectively recognize and reward your team.
1: Ask your veterinary team members how they’d like to be recognized
You’ve probably heard of having different “love languages,” but did you know there are also different languages of appreciation? Some people will value gift cards or offsite team events, while others might prefer a handwritten note or registration to a continuing education conference. And, some may like to receive public praise, while others do not.
The easiest time to ask someone what their “appreciation preferences” are is during their onboarding as a new employee, but you can also take inventory periodically during your (hopefully) regular one-on-one meetings.
By giving team members an opportunity to tell you what means the most to them, you are showing that you care and want to learn how best to encourage them. It might take a little more effort, but if you’re going to take the time to recognize someone, you want it to actually be meaningful.
Check out this supplemental resource: Reward and Recognition Motivation Assessment.
2: Create a culture of gratitude the whole veterinary team can participate in
Recognizing and rewarding staff shouldn’t just fall on the manager’s shoulders. Instead, it should be a behavior everyone demonstrates to open the lines of communication and build trust. One way to do this is to set up a “kudos board” to give everyone the opportunity to show appreciation and strengthen your team.
At my hospital, we already had a bulletin board in our break area, so I added a section called “Pawsitive Praise.” I cut out a bunch of blank paw prints with space for team members to write who they wanted to recognize (here’s a template). Then I put them in a Ziploc bag with some sharpies and attached it to the board so team members could grab one and fill it out quickly.
As with anything new, it took a little while to catch on. To set an example, I tried to write at least one every day during the first week or two. Once everyone got used to it, they loved it! The board created a space for everyone to see that we are each appreciated and valued, and it encouraged us to look for ways to recognize each other.
Things are often so busy during appointments that it’s hard to stop and give someone a compliment in the moment. Our Pawsitive Praise bulletin board provided a way for the team to recognize each other after the fact, and I would often see people go there after the veterinary hospital calmed down and fill out a few at a time.
At the end of the month, take down all the pawprints from the board and give everyone their “kudos” to keep.
To take it a step further, you can hold two drawings each month—one for a recognizer and one for a recognizee—and the winners can receive a simple prize or gift card. This will reinforce that having a spirit of gratitude is a core value at your veterinary practice.
3: Be consistent, especially as a leader
While everyone should contribute to building a culture of recognition, the practice leadership needs to set a clear and consistent example to really make a difference. Keep these tips in mind:
- Regardless of the “language” you’re using to show appreciation, it should always be fair, timely, and specific.
- Some days during the craziness, it can be easy to forget to say “thank you,” so don’t feel bad if you have to set a calendar reminder.
I made a habit of typing a note on my phone when I observed a staff member doing something I wanted to recognize them for, and making sure to say something within 24 hours.
- Proactively look for opportunities to show appreciation, even for small victories. Just like Pavlov showed us with his drooling dogs, the behavior that is positively reinforced will continue.
- It takes practice to create a habit of gratitude, but the more you model the behavior for others, the more they will see value in it.
Rewarding and recognizing your veterinary team is essential to building and maintaining a healthy practice culture. When your staff is happy and engaged, they will take ownership of their work, and your hospital will reap the benefits: Your patients will get better care, your clients will get better service, your staff turnover will decrease, and more. It is possible to survive and thrive in the chaos of veterinary medicine, but not on pizza alone.