Third-Party Harassment at Your Practice: How to Respond

Originally published in Today’s Veterinary Business, February 2019

Harassment creates a negative environment in the workplace, lowering morale, reducing productivity, and otherwise upsetting employees. It can take the form of unwanted flirtation, forced touching, or inappropriate jokes about an employee’s religion, race or sex. It could involve an unwillingness of someone to work with, for example, a sight-impaired employee. Harassment can also occur when someone inappropriately contacts an employee outside of work hours. Any behavior that threatens another person, humiliates him or her or otherwise victimizes a person can be considered harassment.

When employee harassment occurs, and all parties involved are working at your practice, the situation can be challenging; but hopefully you can have a process in place to deal with the situation.

What do you do when the person accused of harassing one or more of your employees doesn’t work at your practice? Perhaps the person is the janitor for the building where your practice is housed, a pharmaceutical salesperson or a landscaper. The accused could be an investor, a shareholder or even a client. The harassment could happen in person, in writing or on the phone, by email or even through social media postings.

So, what do you do?

First, it’s important to educate yourself and your managers about the laws surrounding third-party harassment, including case law, so your practice team has a solid foundation on which to form third-party anti-harassment policies and procedures. At the core of relevant case law is Freeman v. Dal-Tile Corp., the case in which the United States 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, yes, employers can be held liable when a third party engages in acts of workplace harassment.

In this landmark case, the plaintiff asked her employer for help when an independent sales representative who came into the company repeatedly subjected her to harassment, both sexual and racial. She did not feel her company protected her and she ultimately resigned. She then filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, stating that the workplace environment was hostile, and the reporting system was not working.

Educating your management team about this case is crucial to set the stage about how seriously these behaviors are now taken in federal courts. Also, be knowledgeable about and share how your state laws read, because specifics do vary by state.

Then, after making sure your managers are clear about these laws, it’s important to discuss what’s needed in your practice to create appropriate policies, procedures and channels of communication so that your employees, unlike the plaintiff in the case described above, can be promptly heard and remedies readily applied.

Include expectations of third-party vendors in your employee handbook, and let employees know how to inform you about any harassment by them. Be crystal clear that you have zero tolerance for this type of harassment, stating that any instances should be immediately reported. Review these guidelines with new employees and regularly revisit them when you review your handbook with all employees annually.

When Choosing Third-Party Vendors

Clearly communicate your expectations to vendors when you select them, letting them know that appropriate behavior in your practice is required. It can help to schedule an orientation-type meeting when you choose a new vendor, whether a salesperson from a drug company, someone who services office equipment or a contractor. Whenever you professionally communicate expectations, it’s more likely that they’ll be met. Although these types of conversations may initially feel awkward, companies with similar philosophies will respect your boundaries. And, if a third-party company is not comfortable with a professional discussion about the prevention of employee harassment, it’s not a company you would want to continue to do business with.

When an Employee Complaint is Made

A prompt response is crucial to maintain a professional workplace where employees are respected. Plus, if the case ultimately goes to court, your speed of response may become an important factor. If you do not act immediately, it could be considered a lack of care and potentially contribute to a decision that your practice is an unsafe work environment.

Your practice should investigate the complaint, just as you would if the accused harasser worked for your practice, although specifics of the investigative process may differ. The investigation should be prompt, unbiased and fair, with no assumptions made ahead of time.

While the investigation is ongoing, you can adjust the affected employee’s (or employees’) duties to protect him/her/them from the accused harasser. Do so in a way that has the least impact on employees’ jobs. This is important because, if any change in duties negatively affects the employee who lodged the complaint, this can be considered unlawful retaliation.

If your investigation indicates that harassment is occurring, have a conversation with the third-party vendor and/or his or her human resources department, as applicable. You may need to break off the relationship with the vendor, or you may be able to continue the relationship with the company with a different representative.

Depending upon specific circumstances, there may be other steps to take, including preventive measures to provide additional protection to employees going forward. This should include, but is not limited to, reviewing your employee handbook to ensure that the procedure to file harassment complaints about third parties is optimal (or if policies and procedures related to this situation need updating). Policies must contain the same zero tolerance language as harassment policies created for intra-practice situations and must provide protections to witnesses to the harassment who come forward with relevant information.

When you do your annual review of your employee handbook, use it as an opportunity to further educate employees on third-party harassment, including how it is defined and how they should respond if they see it happening at your practice. Encourage your employees to speak up and let them know that you will protect them from retaliation.

Whenever this type of situation arises, consider seeking out the advice of experienced attorneys, especially if you haven’t handled something similar before. Better yet, talk to an attorney when creating your policies, which will help to ensure that if third party harassment situations do arise at your practice you have systems in place to swiftly deal with them. This protects your practice, as well as your employees and vendors.

Remember to maintain confidentiality. It’s crucial that your employees feel safe in reporting harassment issues, including with third parties. This will play a significant role in creating an overall safe workplace, and one that is stronger, more productive, and more successful.

Note About Client Harassment

It can be especially challenging if an employee experiences harassment from a client. Because it can affect practice revenue, employees may be especially reluctant to report these situations. For this reason, it’s important that your practice policies explicitly state that harassing behaviors by clients should be reported, and that they will be thoroughly investigated and appropriately handled.

Regardless of the parties involved, the act of harassment in the workplace is a serious matter that should be addressed immediately. Your practice should have a policy in place to deal with it and everyone working at the practice should be educated about it. This will promote a safe working environment where everyone can do their job successfully.

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Optimizing Millennial Success

Millennials are on track to be the most educated group of people entering the workforce in history. They have been defined as “ambitious high-achievers” and, as such, it was speculated that employers would appreciate these hard workers entering the workforce. However, the Millennials’ transition into the workforce has not been as smooth as it was predicted, and misunderstandings between groups from different generations have allowed for the untapped potential from Millennials to be wasted. There are various characteristics of Millennials that when understood and properly managed by employers, can create a happy working environment for all generations.

Millennials are commonly defined as people born between 1981 and 2000, although no absolute chronological endpoint has been established for this generation. Currently, they are young adults, falling between the ages of 17-37. They will soon become the largest living generation in America with nearly 75 million constituents.

The Millennial generation has been described as confident, ambitious, independent, innovative, optimistic, adaptable and technologically advanced. Those are potentially positive traits for an employee. However, as it happens with every generation, there has been some friction as the Millennials have entered the workforce. Criticisms are arising, perhaps to the largest inter-generational degree to date, as new perspectives clash with old ones. This is happening, in large part, because Millennial perspectives on information, job security, and leadership tend to be diametrically opposed to those of older, existing workers.

As Baby Boomers and Generation Xers are retiring, Millennials have been entering the workforce at increasing rates, with Millennials recently surpassing Generation Xers and Baby Boomers to become the largest component of the U.S. labor force, comprising 34.6% in 2015. By 2020, they are projected to comprise 46% of the labor force. Competitive employers will therefore be trying to attract and retain Millennial workers to create an edge for their business to succeed, and the best way to attract any demographic group is to understand what they want and then provide it. To understand Millennial motivation, one must look to the big influences on their generation to see what has shaped and helped to define them.  

Millennial Influences

Millennials, just like with preceding generations, have been shaped by the events of the world as they grew up. Events that occur during formative years tend to have a significant impact on people as they mature, with some sociologists saying that people are disproportionately influenced by events that occur between their late teens and mid-twenties. Others believe that the range of influencing years is broader. Most agree that by their late twenties and early thirties, people become more set in their beliefs. By this definition, the big influencers for the Millennial generation would include helicopter parents, digital media, terrorist attacks, and economic recessions, including the burst of the dot-com bubble and the subprime mortgage crisis.

Helicopter Parents

Millennials were often raised by parents who scheduled everything for them. Their schedules outside of school were frequently packed with everything from sports practice to music lessons. Many parents of Millennials had no trouble petitioning a coach for more playing time or a teacher for a better grade for their child, making Millennials a more micromanaged generation. Notably, this packed schedule often involved group activities, frequently making Millennials great team players. Plus, Millennials are often very close with their parents and rely upon them as a source of advice and wisdom.

On top of their highly involved parents praising them, Millennials often received trophies for participation in their activities. This has fostered expectations that they deserve an award simply for showing up. On the plus side, Millennials want to continue receiving these awards, which can help them to focus on developing the talents and skills that will help them win coveted awards. This means they are often setting new challenges for themselves, which could be very useful in the workplace if properly harnessed. However, this has also led many Millennials to believe they are unduly special; 54% of them believe the workplace should adapt to them and it is therefore unnecessary for them to conform to company culture.

In summary, the helicopter parent influence on Millennials shaped them to be team oriented, externally motivated and confident, and has also led many of them to believe they are “special.”

Digital Media

Millennials were the first generation to grow up surrounded by the instant gratification technology of digital media. Because technology was integrated into so many aspects of their lives, from cell phones to IMs to personal computers, they are technologically savvy. They are therefore also experts at multitasking and have become accustomed to getting what they want, such as answers to questions, when they want it. Millennials also witnessed the birth of social media, which has allowed the world to shrink exponentially; through improved access, Millennials are exposed to more ideas, cultures and opinions. This has made them more open-minded and more networked than past generations. Having access to many opinions with the click of a button has also helped to shape this generation into a collaborative group.

The digital media influence has shaped Millennials to be team oriented as well as technologically savvy, open-minded, globally conscious, multitaskers and networked.

Terrorist Attacks

A bulk of this generation was still in school at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and they experienced an increase in helicopter parenting following this event. This fostered the generations’ dependence on technology, with personal cell phones being given to children so parents could contact them at any time.  Due to close ties with their parents, Millennials also experienced a reinforcement in the value of a sense of community.

During this character-forming time in the Millennials’ youth, they witnessed a senseless act of violence that demonstrated the fragility of human life. Thus, a sense of urgency seems to permeate this generation. They live their lives with borderline-delusional courage, unconventional work ethics and a ferocious need to customize their futures because they watched as other futures were cut short. They are therefore driven by their passions more than past generations and live more in the moment because of these events. This influence also helped to mold Millennials to be family oriented and passionate about making a difference.

Recessions

The 1990s were a time of steady economic growth and expansion; the mid-to-late 1990s saw optimistic entrepreneurs pursing new internet ventures, influenced by successes such as eBay and Amazon. Many internet companies called “dot-coms” were launched, and investors financed these start-ups. However, these ventures were not as profitable as originally assumed and many of the companies crashed, leading to a stock market crash. During the final decades of the 20th century, 30 million U.S. workers were laid off. For the Millennials, this meant seeing their parents lose their jobs. They were imprinted as children by a period of diminished job security and weakening ties between the employer and the employee. Company loyalty did not mean as much as it once had.

After seeing their parents bear the brunt of the dot-coms, Millennials experienced a recession themselves just as they were entering the workforce. This “Great Recession” lasted from 2007 to 2010, in large part because of mortgage credit being offered to subprime borrowers. When these borrowers defaulted on their loans, the housing market crashed, which affected the overall economy. It decreased wealth and consumer spending, lowered construction, limited the ability of firms to lend money, and limited the funds firms could raise.

The group of people who were affected most by this crisis were the Millennials who were just entering the workforce, particularly the graduating class of 2008. They had trouble finding jobs, much less jobs with high enough wages to offset their massive student debt. This caused many young adults to postpone major adult milestones such as marriage, or the purchase of their own car or home.

Even several years after the recession, Millennials are still having some difficulty finding jobs. Statistics from Pew Research indicate that 25-34-year-olds made up 48% of the unemployed population in 2015. Additionally, it has been harder for Millennials to access credit, which has caused some of them to settle for jobs they don’t want, with people from this generation frequently looking for new potential employment opportunities. They have seen layoffs or been in a position where they themselves could not find a job. Thus, many have responded with the mindset that they will not let the same things happen to them or are determined not to have them happen again; they are therefore constantly looking ahead.

These economic recessions made Millennials ambitious and stressed, and they have contributed to this generation’s external motivation.

Tips for Optimizing Success Based on Millennial Traits

Based on the major influences of the times, certain traits within Millennials arose that shape their motivation. These traits give insight as to what is important to Millennials, and thus, how they can be managed and fostered in the workplace to optimize success. Millennials are team oriented, family oriented, externally motivated, “special,” confident, ambitious, technologically savvy, open-minded, globally conscious, networked, multitaskers, passionate about making a difference, and stressed. Here are a few ways you can harness these traits to optimize workplace success.

Millennials are all about work and life. Nearly six in 10 (57%) of them say work-life balance and personal well-being in a job are “very important” to them.  Not surprisingly, then, lack of flexibility was cited among the top reasons Millennials quit jobs. And nearly 40 percent of young workers, male or female, in the United States are so unhappy with the lack of paid parental-leave policies that they say they would be willing to move to another country.

So, what options can you offer Millennials? Can you offer flexible scheduling, including but not limited to telecommuting elements? What is your parental leave policy? Should you take a second look at what you offer? When you talk to the Millennials at your practice, what options do they say are important to them?

Millennials prefer to work in teams, in part because they perceive group-based work to be more fun, but also because they like to avoid risk. Millennials also report that working and interacting with other members of a team makes work more pleasurable. Millennial workers like to be actively involved and fully committed to whatever projects they take on, and they contribute their best efforts to the organization when their work is performed in a collaborative workgroup or team.

What team structures do you have in place at your practice? Have you sat down with your employees to find out ways in which they would like more teamwork to exist? What changes can you make now? In the future?

Because they fear risk, knowing that health insurance is available and affordable is important to this generation. What are you able to provide them? Are there voluntary benefits you can offer them? Because this is a generation with significant student debt, increasing numbers of companies are offering loan repayment assistance. Have you investigated that option?

Millennials appreciate the opportunity to learn and grow. Have you sat down with them to talk about promotion possibilities and the best way to get the education and training needed for a desired promotion?

These are just some of the ways in which you can optimize Millennial performance at work and retain your best employees. It’s important, too, to avoid pigeon-holing any employee, assuming you know what someone wants because of the year of his or her birth. For employees of any age or generation, the way you can learn the most about their desires, fears, needs and wants is open and honest communication. Set aside time to learn more about your employees as individuals and help them with their unique career paths – and you will all benefit.

14 Issues Your Veterinary Practice Partnership Documents Should (Have) Address(ed)

What happens when you die? Will your heirs receive a fair price, or any price for your investment in the practice? Will they remain locked into that investment forever? Will your heirs collect profits from the practice? What if the other partner (who is getting paid under his practice employment contract) has voting control and decides not to distribute profits?

If your heirs are to be bought out, who sets the purchase price? How and by whom is it paid? If part of the purchase price is paid with a promissory note, is same secured? How? What if the practice is not profitable enough to pay the note?

What happens when your partner dies? Your deceased partner’s heirs are now your new partners.

Barring a fluke, your new partners will not be veterinarians. Does your State permit non-veterinarian practice owners?  Will they want to be bought out or stay and collect profits from the practice?  (Without contributing to profit generation of course.)  If the deceased partner was a large shareholder, or the majority interest holder, the heirs will also inherit your deceased partner’s voting rights.  Do you want to share practice management with, or be managed by, such persons?  What if the heirs squabble among themselves, leading to management paralysis and/or litigation? Do you fancy having the practice run by a court-appointed receiver?

If the heirs are to be bought out, who determines the purchase price? How and by whom is it paid? If there’s a note, is it secured? How?

What if you are permanently disabled? Will you receive a fair price, or any price for your investment in the practice? Will you remain locked into your investment forever? Will you collect profits from the practice? What if the remaining partner decides not to distribute profits?

If you are to be bought out, who sets the purchase price? By whom and how is it paid? If there’s a note, is it secured? How?

What if your partner is permanently disabled? Will your disabled partner want to be bought out or stay and collect practice profits (without generating any of same)? A disabled partner’s interests will be different then yours, so if he was the managing and/or majority partner, how will he run the practice? Will he be able to run the practice? What if the disabled partner is mentally disabled?

If your disabled partner is to be bought out, who determines the purchase price? How and by whom is it paid? If there’s a note, is it secured? How?

What if your partner goes nuts? You don’t want a mentally unstable person practicing veterinary medicine. But if such partner is the majority partner you can’t fire him, because he, not you, controls the practice entity. The same problem arises for equal partners. Sure your mentally disabled partner could voluntarily remove himself, but can you rely on that? What if the majority partner has a guardian? How will the guardian run the practice? What if the majority partner or guardian fires you?

What if your partner should be fired as veterinarian-employee? Suppose your partner becomes lazy or his child becomes ill and decides to work significantly less hours or stop working altogether. Suppose your partner becomes a substance abuser and consequently unfit to practice veterinary medicine. Or he steals from the practice. Or he harasses employees and/or abuses clients and/or patients.  The foregoing would be grounds for terminating a veterinarian employee.  But if your partner is the majority or an equal partner you can’t fire him (as explained in the preceding paragraph).

What if you no longer get along? Should the practice be dissolved? If not, who should leave? At what price should the departing partner be bought out? How and by whom is it paid? If there’s a note, is it secured? How?

In a 50/50 practice how are disagreements handled? What happens when each party has equal voting/management rights and a serious disagreement arises? How will the resulting deadlock be resolved?

What if your partner wants to drop out, buy a boat and sail around the world? Should your partner be permitted to withdraw? If not, how do you keep your partner from just resigning as an employee (in light of the constitutional prohibition of involuntary servitude)?

What if your ex-partner discovers he’s chronically sea-sick and comes back to set up a veterinary practice next store (using the client list he kept when he left)?

If a partner is permitted to withdraw, who determines the purchase price? By whom and how is it paid? If there’s a note, is it secured?  How?

What if your partner divorces? If the divorced spouse has, or is awarded, a portion of your partner’s practice equity interest, the divorced spouse becomes a partner. Ménages à trois make great literature and film themes but ALWAYS end badly.

What if your partner goes bankrupt? Do you fancy your partner’s creditor as your new partner? It won’t be fun to have a bank running, or having a say in running, the practice. Worse, the bank likely will want to sell your partner’s share to a competitor. 

Who’s got the land? The small animal practice’s most valuable asset is its location, because most clients won’t travel far for pet treatment. As zoning restrictions get ever tighter, good practice locations become ever rarer (and more expensive). If, as is frequently the case, one partner owns the practice premises, what happens when he dies, is disabled, withdraws, resigns, divorces and/or goes bankrupt?

What if another veterinarian wants to buy your partner’s interest in the practice? Should your partner be allowed to sell without your approval?  Should you have a right of first offer?  A right of first refusal?

IF YOUR PARTNER IS NOT YOUR RETIREMENT PLAN, THEN WHO IS? If you don’t have a firm  agreement with your partner to sell your practice interest to him (or someone else) upon your retirement, then how are you going to retire using your investment in the practice as your nest egg?  What if both partners want to retire at the same time?

Hiring Teens: Pros and Cons and How to Find the Best Hires

According to ChildTrends.org, the percentage of youth that have jobs is on the upswing, but it’s still not as high as it was in 2006, before the Great Recession hit in December 2007. When that recession occurred, teenagers took a significant portion of the brunt of unemployment.

There are clear benefits for a teenager when they are employed, and there are benefits for the overall economy, but what are the benefits and challenges for employers? What about your practice? Does it make good sense for you to hire teenagers?

Here are some of the challenges, as well as the numerous benefits of hiring a teenager to work at your practice. Plus, learn some helpful tips on finding the right teen for the job.

Challenges of Hiring Teenagers

One of the most obvious challenges is their lack of experience. This means you’ll need to expend more resources training and/or supervising a teenaged worker and be patient as the learning curve takes place. You will likely need to explain tasks in more detail and answer more questions. After all, this may be his or her very first job. If not, he or she is still near the beginning of life as an employee.

Teenagers are usually more at the mercy of their family’s schedule. They may or may not have their own transportation and they may not have as much control over when family commitments take place. Plus, during the school year, they will have multiple scheduling conflicts, whether it’s because of exams or extracurricular activities. They may have parents who hover over them and this can have a negative impact on the workplace.

You may need to explain policies to them more than once, perhaps about cell phone use at work. Teenagers have likely been surrounded by cell phones for as long as they can remember, and it just feels natural for them to quickly Google something they want to know or answer a text. Policies that just feel natural to you, as an employer, may not make sense to them at all.

Teens may need guidance in how to handle pressure and/or frustration at work, and they may struggle to accept feedback if it’s the first time for them in a workplace setting. They won’t have the same perspectives as older workers, something that will serve as both a positive and a negative.

Their conditions of employment are more subject to regulations, from federal on down, from when they can work, to how many hours, to what safety considerations need to be in place. The latter includes the restrictions on some equipment usage because of hazards. Remember that state laws can be even more restrictive than federal ones, so know what your state requires and restricts. It’s important to know the youth minimum wage (currently at $4.25) and whether your state pushes that to a higher amount. It’s also important to know how long you can pay that youth rate before being required to pay the regular federal minimum wage (currently for the first 90 calendar days before changing to $7.25).

Benefits of Hiring Teenagers

Stereotypical jobs for teenagers include summer employment such as a lifeguard, a camp counselor, or at an ice cream stand. Other common jobs include working in a fast food restaurant or at a retail store during the busy holiday season. In those cases, the benefits of using teenagers are clear: extra help during peak seasons, especially at tourism sites, and/or at a lower pay rate.

Hiring teen workers can reduce your payroll costs, in part because of the youth minimum wage and in part because they are less experienced employees and would receive starting levels of pay. (Note: just because you can pay a teenager a wage lower than the federal minimum wage for a period doesn’t mean you necessarily should. If a reasonable amount of companies in your area are hiring, you may need to offer something more enticing.)

Because teenagers typically work part-time, you can save money on benefits, as well. And, depending upon where your practice is located, you may be able to claim a tax credit for employing teenagers.

Hiring teenagers provide more stability than if you rely upon temporary workers who could suddenly leave your practice if offered regular employment. And the teens you employ part-time may stay with your practice throughout their school years, perhaps even through college. If they decide to stay in the veterinary industry after finishing school, they become a source of experienced employees that are already part of your company’s culture, and trained to your specifications.

Younger employees can bring a fresh perspective to your practice. In fact, many companies today use a reverse-mentoring philosophy in which young workers share perspectives with older ones, on topics such as social media and crowdsourcing.

Young workers usually have higher levels of energy and, when harnessed in the workplace, this can help energize the workers around them. When given appropriate direction, guidance and feedback, teenagers can be extremely productive workers. They can often multi-task especially well, can be quite versatile, and aren’t set in their ways like many older employees.

How to Find the Best Teens for Your Practice

Just like with adult workers, some teens may be a better fit for your practice than others. It helps to talk to school counselors at the local high schools, vocational schools and community colleges to find out how to connect with students who are looking for jobs. They often host job fairs and may have programs to connect job-seeking students with businesses looking to hire.

Referrals from current employees and other people in your network can lead to finding the right teenagers to hire. If you are going to advertise, do so where teens are likely to be. Use social media, for example, rather than local print newspapers. Another effective way to reach young workers is through online job websites such as Indeed.com, ZipRecruiter.com and Monster.com. Regardless of how you share your employment advertisement, when you reach the right person, you will have found a new, young member to benefit your veterinary team.

Anatomy of Negotiation: Talking to Corporate Consolidators

Everyone becomes involved in a negotiation at some point in their career, whether or not they initiate it. A negotiation is a process in which two or more parties attempt to resolve differing needs and interests through a series of communications. It is a fact of life, especially in business, that people have conflicts that need to be resolved through a sometimes uncomfortable discussion, but there are strategies that can help you through the process.

Why Are Negotiations Needed

An employer may want to offer someone higher wages, but needs to consider the overall profitability of a practice. Meanwhile, an employee may understand and support the need for a thriving practice, but also needs to earn a certain wage to support his or her family. Employers and employees negotiate because they each have what the other one needs, and they believe they can obtain a better outcome through the process than if they simply accept what the other party is offering.

Sometimes, negotiations occur because the status quo is no longer acceptable for one or both parties. Negotiations take finesse because, besides dealing with specific tangible points (wages, insurance benefits and workplace perks, as just three examples), emotions play a part and ongoing relationships are involved. The parties are choosing to try to resolve their different positions through discussions, rather than arguing, ending the relationship, having one person dominate the relationship or taking the dispute to another party with more authority.

Negotiation Forum

Negotiations can take place in different forums and choosing the right forum can be a critical factor in a successful negotiation. These forums are not mutually exclusive and the value of each depends upon different factors, including the location of the parties, the time available for negotiation, and each party’s comfort level with negotiating. One of the most effective methods of negotiation is the face-to-face negotiation. This is particularly true if the parties are sophisticated and experienced negotiators. The advantages of negotiating face-to-face include that the parties can devote all or most of their attention to the negotiation without distraction; being in the same room increases the urgency to achieve a resolution, and savvy negotiators can read the body language and facial expressions of the other party, which is very useful in negotiation. A face-to-face negotiation is often not possible if the parties are in different jurisdictions or cannot commit a block of time to negotiations.

If the parties are unable or unwilling to meet face-to-face, negotiation can be done by telephone, email or text. In this day and age of increasing technology, this is how most negotiations take place today. As a side note, video conferencing can have many of the same benefits of face-to-face negotiation if the parties are in different locations. One downside of these non-face-to-face negotiations, especially email or text, is that it is often difficult to explain fully a party’s position on an issue with these methods, which can lead to misunderstanding and distrust, two characteristics that can be poisonous to negotiations. It can also take longer to complete negotiations as the parties can respond at their own pace to emails and texts. A savvy, sophisticated negotiator can use these delays to their advantage by preying on the insecurity and anxiousness of an inexperienced negotiator, who will often feel pressured or hurried into making a deal to avoid losing the opportunity.

Negotiation Terminology

Using the example of wages, employers and employee alike have a target point, which are the wages they would like the other party to agree to. The difference between what an employee wants to be paid and the employer wants to pay is the bargaining range. Meanwhile, the resistance point is where a party would walk away from negotiations; if too low of a wage or raise is proposed, an employee may begin job searching or a job candidate may decline an offer; the employer also has a point at which he or she will reject a wage request and end negotiations.

When the buyer (employer) has a resistance point that’s above the seller’s (employee), this situation has a positive bargaining range. The employer, in this case, is willing to pay more than the employee’s minimum requirements, so this situation has a good chance of being satisfactorily resolved. With a negative bargaining range, though, one or both of the parties must change their resistance point(s) for there to be a possibility of resolution.

In a wage negotiation scenario, either the employer will offer a starting wage or raise, or an employee or job candidate will request a certain dollar amount; the first person to name a dollar amount is making the opening offer. If at least one of the parties has a BATNA – best alternative to negotiation agreements – then he or she will probably approach the discussions with more confidence, having another alternative. So, if an employer offers someone a job, but has another excellent candidate waiting in the wings, the employer has another alternative and can set a higher and/or firmer resistance point. Conversely, if an employee or job candidate has a unique set of skills that are needed in today’s practices, that person probably has more options in the job market – perhaps even other pending offers. The quality of a negotiator’s alternatives drives his or her value by providing the power to walk away and/or set a higher and/or firmer resistance point.

Bargaining Styles

There is more than one type of bargaining style. One way to differentiate them is to divide them into distributive bargaining and integrative bargaining.

In distributive bargaining, parties’ needs and desires are in direct conflict with one another’s, with each party wanting a bigger piece of a fixed tangible such as money or time, so these negotiations are typically competitive. Parties are not concerned with a future relationship with the other person. A slang term for this type of negotiation is “playing hardball” or “one upping” someone. Strategies often include making extreme offers, such as an employer offering a very low wage or a job candidate asking for an exceptionally high one. Tactics include trying to persuade the other party to reconsider his or her resistance point because of the value being offered – in this example, the job candidate might say that a high salary was required because of his or her abilities or an employer could say that lower wages would be compensated by a great work environment.

With integrative bargaining, though, the goal is win-win collaborations that will provide a good opportunity for both parties. The employer would acknowledge the employee’s value and need for a decent wage, and negotiate accordingly, while the employee or job candidate would recognize the value of working at a particular practice as well as the fact that the employer has numerous other financial commitments to fulfill. They recognize that they need one another to maximize their respective opportunities and negotiate from a place of trust and integrity, with a positive outlook that recognizes and validates the other party’s interest in the transaction.

Here’s an interesting psychological truth. Negotiators are more satisfied with final outcomes if there is a series of concessions, rather than if their first offer is accepted; that’s because, in the latter, they feel they could have done better.

Negotiation Styles

To successfully negotiate, it’s crucial to clearly define the issues involved, and to prepare for the negotiations. Each party should be clear about his or her target point, opening offer, resistance point and BATNAs.

Multiple negotiation styles exist, each on the spectrum of assertiveness and cooperativeness. Here are summaries of common styles:

  • Competing (high in assertiveness, low in cooperativeness): these negotiators are self-confident and assertive, focusing on results and the bottom line; they tend to impose their views on others
  • Avoiding (low in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators are passive and avoid conflict whenever possible; they try to remove themselves from negotiations or pass the responsibility to someone else without an honest attempt to resolve the situation
  • Collaborating (high in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators use open and honest communication, searching for creative solutions that work well for both parties, even if the solution is new; this negotiator often offers multiple recommendations for the other party to consider
  • Accommodating (low in assertiveness, high in cooperativeness): these negotiators focus on downplaying conflicts and smoothing over differences to maintain relationships; they are most concerned with satisfying the other party
  • Compromising (moderate in assertiveness and cooperativeness): these negotiators search for common ground and are willing to meet the other party in the middle; they are usually willing to give and take and find moderate satisfaction acceptable

As long as both parties are committed to the business relationship and believe there is value in coming to an agreement, negotiations can typically proceed. If one or both parties, though, are unreasonable, uninformed or stubborn – or listening to advisors with those characteristics – negotiations can fall through. Other challenges exist when one party doesn’t necessarily need the deal, isn’t in a hurry or knows that the other party is without other options and/or in a time crunch.

Negotiation Fears

You may dread negotiation. If so, you’re not alone. Common reasons for this include:

You have not yet solidified your position: in this case, more preparation is clearly needed.

Fear of looking stupid: nobody likes looking foolish, so some people will avoid negotiations altogether rather than taking the risk of not negotiating well.

Liking people and wanting to make them happy (but perhaps not being able to give them what they want!)/not wanting to affect someone else in a negative way: if you are interviewing for a promotion at a practice, say, and you really like the practice manager, you may worry that negotiations will upset the manager or put her in a difficult position.

Fear of failure: some people would prefer to not negotiate at all, rather than making an unsuccessful attempt.

Feeling uncomfortable with money: some people were taught that it wasn’t polite to talk about money!

Some people have an aversion to conflict, overall, and so they avoid the potential of it by not negotiating. Yet, others feel vulnerable when negotiating. People tend to feel more confident during negotiations when it focuses on an area of their expertise and/or where solid evidence exists to back up the negotiations.

Women in particular are reluctant to negotiate, with only 7 percent doing so. They suffer the costs associated with not negotiating because they tend to have lower expectations, fear being considered a “bitch” and being penalized for negotiating. As a solution, women can consider framing their wants into the value that they will bring to the other party, and share how they can solve the underlying problem of the other party.

Areas where negotiating may not feel as intimidating include:

  • Negotiations for resources, whether it’s asking for more equipment or for a practice to hire more people
  • Negotiations about how to use resources; with a common purpose, solutions can be reverse engineered fairly easily
  • Negotiations where you have expertise
  • Negotiations with big companies where nothing is personal
  • Negotiations where you have evidence to support your position, including facts, data and logical reasoning

Salary and Benefits Negotiation Tips

Even though the examples given so far have focused on monetary compensation, when negotiating, don’t focus solely on wage or salary. Also discuss benefits offered and workplace perks – meaning the entire package. This can include, but is not limited to, health care coverage, life insurance, retirement programs, vacation time and flextime. If you’re job hunting, investigate what companies are offering. Where do you think the place you’re interviewing falls on that spectrum? What is the minimum pay level that you’re willing to accept? What is your preferred wage? What benefits are important to you?

If you want to work at a particular practice, but the pay rate isn’t quite what you want, ask if you can have a salary review in, say, six months. This doesn’t mean accepting a salary that is clearly sub-par, nor does it mean that you should try to put more pressure on a potential employer who is already offering you a good deal. It is simply something to consider in relevant circumstances.

What workplace perks might be desired? Would a company cell phone help you? Better equipment or software? If so, you could consider accepting somewhat lower pay if you get more tools to do your job.

Although telecommuting is seldom an option for veterinary staff, outside of perhaps financial or other purely admin functions, you could negotiate coming in half an hour later so that you can take your children to school or schedule a lunch break that coincides with when you need to pick them up. If you bring crucial skills to the negotiating table, you’re more likely to get these concessions than if you are entry-level.

If relevant, ask about practice policy if you become pregnant. How acceptable is the policy to you? How important of a negotiating point is this for you? What about if you are injured in the workplace? Educate yourself on your workplace rights before negotiations occur, as well as company policy. If you are valuable to the practice, perhaps you can negotiate some additional flexibility.

Who should be the first to make an offer? Some experts believe that, if you allow the other party to provide a starting dollar figure, he or she has shown his or her hand. But, research indicates that final figures tend to be closer to the original number stated than what the other party had originally hoped.

Negotiating with Corporate Consolidators

Your negotiations today are likely to be with a representative of a corporate consolidator. These individuals typically have business background, training and experience, often in banking or private equity. They are sophisticated negotiators. Be aware of the psychology involved in these types of negotiations, as these negotiators will tell you what you want to hear to gain your trust and confidence, and then will provide you with a written agreement that is vague and broadly written. This will work to their advantage as corporate consolidators have “deep pockets,” with experienced and tenacious lawyers on their side who are not averse to litigation. This alone can act as a deterrent to someone with fewer resources and less time to fight back. If you ask for more specificity in the agreement, they will say, “Trust me, things will be as I said.” They also may use pressure, either subtly or overtly, to get you to agree to their terms. For example, they will say that, if you do not sign this contract by a certain date, we will pull the offer and go with another candidate we are considering.

As mentioned above, a key element of an employment agreement that must be negotiated carefully is the restrictive covenant. This is even more critical when a corporate consolidator is the employer. In these instances, the covenant is typically broader and even more restrictive. One way this is done that is often not readily apparent on its face is in the definition of the location of the facility for the measurement of the geographical scope of the covenant and the definition of employer with whom you cannot compete or solicit employees, clients or referral sources. Since the corporate consolidators often have multiple locations in a geographical area, they try to measure the geographical scope from all of these locations, even though you may not be working at all of them. This can broaden the restriction greatly. Similarly, the definition of “employer” often includes the specific practice at which you will be working as well as the parent company, affiliates and subsidiaries of such practice. This is particularly troublesome with non-solicitation covenants, as you may not know the clients, employees and referral sources of all of these companies and thus could inadvertently violate the non-solicitation covenant. These tactics require careful negotiation on your part to limit the restrictions to the location where you will be working at and to your employer only.

Employment with corporate consolidators may seem attractive because of the many benefits they can offer. However, often these benefits are illusory. The employment agreement will typically provide that the employer can change any of these benefits at its sole discretion at any time. When negotiating this provision, the employer’s ability to change benefits should be limited to those provided to all employees, such as health insurance or retirement plans, and not to individually-negotiated perks such as paid time off, signing bonuses or payment of membership dues and licenses.

Although entering into an employment agreement with a corporate consolidator may give you the peace of mind that you have a secure and stable job, the reality is often different. Most employment agreements with these employers are for “at will” employment, meaning that the employer may terminate your employment at any time for no reason or advanced notice. Furthermore, while you may have limited job security in this scenario, you are even more at risk because you would be subject to the restrictive covenants upon termination. Attention should be paid to trying to limit the term of the restrictive covenant to the term of employment if less than one or two years. You could also try to negotiate that the restrictive covenant does not apply if you are terminated without cause. This may be difficult to achieve. You also want to negotiate a reciprocal termination right so that you are able to leave your employment without penalty upon notice to your employer.

For Best Results

Success is achieved when you first:

  • Determine the interests of the other party.
  • Embrace compromise.
  • Observe the Golden Rule, treating others as you would like to be treated: fairly and reasonably, without defensiveness.
  • Be prepared, both in factual information and in strategy.

Terms to avoid using during negotiations:

  • “Between” – giving a range tells them how low you would go.
  • “I think we’re close” – a savvy negotiator will recognize “deal fatigue” on your end and stall in the hopes that you’ll concede.

Following these guidelines will empower you to successfully negotiate for yourself with finesse. This will help you to resolve differences with whomever you are dealing with down the road, in all areas of your life.