Compensation Best Practices in 2018

It would be so simple if practice owners could open a fortune cookie for each one of their employees and find the method by which to fairly compensate them.  While there are commonly accepted methods of compensation, their implementation in veterinary practices varies because different entrepreneurs have different business goals.  Also, “fairness” is a relative term that introduces variability into an equation that might otherwise be consistent from practice to practice.  This article describes the factors that practice owners should consider when determining compensation for veterinarians and paraprofessional staff.

Benchmarks

Below is a table that provides a snapshot of current key indicators available for small animal companion practices.  It is not meant to be all-inclusive, but rather to provide some guidelines that enable managers to take the practice’s compensation pulse. They can then determine if the practice is on track for the next year or needs to perform some diagnostics to prevent a fiscal derailment.

Name of Key Indicator Key Indicator Comments Where Found
Total revenue per doctor Less than $450K       10.1%

450K-500K               4.5%

500K-550K               10.1%

550K-600K               14.6%

600K-650K               15.8%

650K-700K               9.0%

700K-750K               5.6%

750K-800K               5.6%

800K-850K               10.1%

850K-900K               3.4%

More than 900K       11.2%

Medical hours only The Well-Managed Practice Benchmarks Study (2017)
Percentage of gross income for paraprofessional staff compensation 22.5% (wages only)

0.6% (retirement)

1.4% (payroll taxes)

24.5% (total cost)

 

  The Well-Managed Practice Benchmarks Study (2017)
Percentage of gross income for veterinary compensation 21% (blended rate) Wages The Well-Managed Practice Benchmarks Study (2017)
Name of Key Indicator Key Indicator Comments Where Found
Average starting salary for a veterinary associate $66,800

 

With < 1 year of experience (excludes benefits) The Well-Managed Practice Benchmarks Study (2017)
Average student debt $166,714

 

The average of 2017 veterinary school graduates with loan debt DVM360 – Where DVMs fit in the U.S. Student Debt Crisis
Average amount of employee’s healthcare cost paid by a Well-Managed Practice 67%   The Well-Managed Practice Benchmarks Study (2017)
Associate compensation ranges (%) for private practices

 

Blended rate: 16-22%

Split rate: 22-26% for services, 4-8% for products

  The Well-Managed Practice Benchmarks Study (2017)
Starting compensation ranges for (hourly rate):

Hospital Administrator

 

Practice Manager

 

Receptionist

 

Credentialed Technician

 

Veterinary Assistant

 

Median        75th Percentile

 

$29.65              $35.10

 

$21.65              $22.80

 

$12.00              $13.00

 

$15.00              $16.00

 

$11.50              $12.50

Median and 75th Percentile ranges as benchmark The Well-Managed Practice Benchmarks Study (2017)
On average, full-time support staff to doctor ratio

 

4.2 All staff members The Well-Managed Practice Benchmarks Study (2017)
On average, veterinary technician/assistant to doctor ratio 1.9 Includes credentialed technicians, non-credentialed technicians, and veterinary assistants only The Well-Managed Practice Benchmarks Study (2017)
Name of Key Indicator Key Indicator Comments Where Found
Average profit margin 9.9%   NCVEI Update – New Insights in Practice Growth- Karen Felsted presented at NAVC 2011
Debunking The Myths Of Base Salary And Production Percentages Why pro sal can work for your practice Each of the debunked myths gives practical tips to follow to include the links for dvm360.com (ProSal) and PayScale.com Veterinary Economics March 2010 – Squashing Pro Sal Myths
Percentage of practices using compensation method for associates Fixed Salary – 21.4%

Base + Percent of Production – 56.4%

Percent of Production – 18%

Hourly – 3.8%

  The Well-Managed Practice Benchmarks Study (2017)
Total compensation worksheet   How you calculate your pay ranges affect your bottom line DVM360 Dec. 2011 – ProSal Total Compensation Worksheet
Crediting doctor’s production   What should be credited to the doctor and what should be credited to the practice DVM360 Nov. 2013– Crediting Doctor’s Production Worksheet

DVM360 July 2005 – Giving Away a Fortune

2010 Veterinary Economics State of the Industry Study   Quantifies compensation methods, how satisfied the owners are, how happy the associates are DVM360 August 2010 – Veterinary compensation conundrum

  

Veterinary Compensation

Many periodicals and books discuss the factors one should consider in establishing a compensation policy for veterinarians. Of particular importance is the question of whether compensation should consist of a fixed salary, a percentage of the revenue generated by the veterinarian and collected by the practice (i.e., commission-based), or a combination of the two. If a commission-based component is present, it is also important to consider how the revenue figure will be calculated. Will it be limited to revenues generated from professional services, or will it include revenues generated from items like over-the-counter medications and foods?    Percentages can also vary in relation to the magnitude of the revenue number that is generated.  Implementing compensation systems in practice requires attention to the details of production calculation and timing of payment. The key to remember is there is NO one size fits all when determining the appropriate compensation for veterinary and non-veterinary staff.  There are numerous factors that go into assessing the actual method used for compensation, which often requires the assistance of an advisor.

National starting salary information is generally published annually in the Journal of the AVMA. (See: Employment, starting salaries, and educational indebtedness of year-2013 graduates of US veterinary medical colleges, October 1, 2013, Vol. 243, No. 7, Pages 983-987; Employment of male and female graduates of US veterinary medical colleges,  JAVMA October 1, 2011, Vol. 239, No. 7, Pages 953-957.) See also the latest biennial edition of the American Animal Hospital Association’s Compensation and Benefits-An In-Depth Look and the AVMA’s Economic Report on Veterinarians and Veterinary Practices (Wise, J., Center for Information Management, AVMA, Shaumberg, IL (Tel: 847-925-8070). Two periodicals, Veterinary Economics and Veterinary Hospital Management Association Newsletter, also regularly publish helpful articles. In addition, Wutchiett Tumblin and Veterinary Economics published Benchmarks 2013 Well Managed Practices.

Paraprofessional Compensation

 Paraprofessionals are often compensated on an hourly basis and the industry has yet to develop widely adopted performance-based compensation models. Paraprofessionals generally report low job satisfaction and high turnover rates. In the 2016 NAVTA Demographic Survey, 38% of veterinary technicians left the practice due to insufficient pay, 20% due to lack of respect from an employer, 20% from burnout and 14% because of the lack of benefits. Full time technicians reported a salary between $15-20 per hour, while part-time technicians reported $14-16 per hour. After taxes, even the well-paid veterinary technicians are only slightly above what is considered the poverty line for a family of four in the United States ($24,300).

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for veterinary technicians was $16.06 per hour in 2017. By comparison, a JAVMA published study on Jan. 1, 2016 of certified veterinary technician specialists reported that the weighted mean pay rate in 2013 was $23.50 per hour.

In AAHA’s 2016 Compensation & Benefits survey, average veterinary employee turnover was 21%.  In Veterinary Economics 2010 Benchmarks survey of Well Managed Practices, turnover was 26% for receptionists, 21% for assistants, and 44% for ward attendants. To compare with the national workforce, Compdata’s Annual Compensation Survey showed that national average turnover was 18.7% in 2008 and 15.9% in 2010.  The chart above can be helpful to calculate a practice’s turnover expenses. Turnover is a pervasive and expensive problem that can be mitigated by learning how to properly motivate employees.

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.

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.

Veterinary Nurse Versus Technician: the Pros and the Cons

The Veterinary technician profession has been subjected to variability since birth. Today, it faces a new, and hopefully positive, change with discussions about modifying the profession’s title to “veterinary nurse”. A movement lead by the National Association for Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) has illuminated differing opinions between those in and outside of the profession.

Veterinary Technician History

The profession began in 1908 when the Canine Nurses Institute made its first organized effort to train English “Veterinary Assistants”. Over the next eighty years, the profession grew. First, the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science created three different levels of “animal technician” certifications at research institutions. Next, the US Army, Purina, and State University of New York (SUNY) established “animal technician” training programs in the 1960’s, which the AVMA then began regulating in 1967. The AVMA waited until 1989 to adopt the term “veterinary technician”, feeling until then that people would be confused with the “veterinary” modifier.

Michigan State University and Nebraska Technical Colleges were the first animal technical educational programs accredited by the AVMA. There are now 230 AVMA accredited veterinary technician education programs. Of these, 21 offer four-year degrees and nine offer distance-learning (online) options. Even before the AVMA adopted the term, the North American Veterinary Technician Association (now called the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America) was formed in 1981. It works alongside the AVMA to protect the profession and encourages veterinary technician specialty developments. However, the profession has not grown uniformly across the United States.

In the United States, 37 states have established “veterinary technician” licensure, 10 states have non-profit organizations that implement voluntary credentialing, and 5 states/territories do not have any credentialing systems. This means that being a veterinary technician today could mean that either the state government regulates your credentialing, you are privately credentialed, or someone gave you the title “veterinary technician” when you started working at a veterinary practice and there is no credentialing system in your state.

Pros of “Veterinary Nurse”

The profession is fragmented by more than their state’s accreditations. Depending on their location, Veterinary technicians currently have varying titles. There are 19 states that use “certified veterinary technician”, 15 states that use “registered veterinary technician”, 14 states that use “licensed veterinary technician”, and Tennessee uses “licensed veterinary medical technician”. With this amount of fragmentation within the profession, how do we as veterinary professionals expect the general public to understand or trust a veterinary technician’s job description? As such a close-knit profession, we forget the foreignness of our commonly-used terms. Most clients underestimate the value of their veterinary technician simply by not knowing the education process. In fact, in a NAVTA survey to human nurses, 71% did not know the difference between veterinary assistants and technicians. Yet, we are baffled when we find that credentialed veterinary technicians are repeatedly unhappy and facing low income, compassion fatigue, lack of recognition and career advancement, underutilization of skills, and competition with individuals trained on-the-job. Due to this culture, the profession has incredibly high turnover rates despite its increased demand by the growing veterinary industry; veterinary technicians are projected to grow 30% by 2022.

How can we, without spending incredible amounts on advertising, uplift our veterinary technicians in the public (and practice’s) eye? Many have suggested using the familiar and applicable “nurse” title. The word “technician” implies an individual who has mastered veterinary science and technology, while “nurse” incorporates caring for animal patients into the description. Heather Predergast, RVT, CVPM, SPHR, a specialist with Patterson Veterinary Supply, Inc., discussed the need to abolish the profession’s fragmentation. She noted that “there has long been a need for common credentialing in this area. The responsibilities and job tasks of a veterinary technician have evolved over time and are inaccurately described by the term ‘technician’, implying a definition of their identify based on technical tasks. The term ‘veterinary nurse’ will incorporate the art of caring for patients from a patient-centered perspective, in addition to the science and technology.”

For these reasons, NAVTA has launched the Veterinary Nurse Initiative in an action to unite a single title, set of credential requirements, and scope of practice. This movement would hopefully provide recognition to the profession and elevate its credibility by requiring further education. Like human nurses, differing titles would recognize individual’s efforts for further education. To distinguish associate and bachelor’s degrees, NAVTA has proposed designating Registered Veterinary Nurse for associate degrees and Bachelor of Sciences in Veterinary Nursing for bachelor’s degrees.

Australia and the United Kingdom have already changed the name to “veterinary nurse” with large success. As the movement poses potential in the States, many academic institutions and corporations, such as Purdue, Midmark Corporation, and Patterson Veterinary Supply Inc. have published endorsements for its change; however, the initiative does face fair opposition.

Cons of “Veterinary Nurse”

Many veterinary technicians still opt to keep their current title. When questioned in a 2016 NAVTA survey, the majority of veterinary technicians (54%) favored the term “veterinary nurse”, over a third (37%) wanted to keep the title “veterinary technician”, and the remaining surveyed were undecided. Most of the pro-technician responders attributed their answer to disbelief that it will be possible to change the title. Some current veterinary technicians have voiced unease at their unsure futures after working their entire careers in a state that does not require licensure. Another similar situation arises for those that have passed the veterinary technician national examination but have not graduated from a school accredited by the AVMA committee.

While, ideally, this veterinary nurse initiative works to unify the profession and ensure quality standards, we must realize that we may be alienating a population of technicians at the end of their careers that would be offended if required to pay for an accredited teaching program and learn alongside new, inexperienced future technicians. Another important consequence to consider is liability. Currently, liability for veterinary technicians falls to the veterinarian on all cases; however, human nurses have their own liability to practice under their license governed by a separate board. This is a consideration essential to address as we raise the accountability of veterinary nurses.

The Veterinary Nurse Initiative has faced opposition outside of the profession as well. In fact, the veterinary technicians initially opposed to changing the name also noted conflict with human nurses in any past attempted title changes. The Veterinary Nurse Initiative investigated this further by sending a survey to three nursing groups. Two of the three declined to even acknowledge the survey, potentially indicating apathy for veterinary-related topics. Of the one group that did complete the survey, 66% did not object to “veterinary nurse”; however, regardless of whether or not they were opposed to the title change, almost all of the responders incorrectly assumed a veterinary technician’s educational requirements. An analysis of the opposed responses to the nurse title found that the objectors believed technician education was subpar to human nursing and the title was not deserved by veterinary technicians. It suggests that the human nursing profession worries about maintaining the quality of its own title and hopes to avoid misrepresentations.

In the past, other professions, not similar in scope to human nurses, have attempted to claim a “nursing” title. For example, a Christian medical community attempted to title their “spiritual healers” as “nurses”; however, they did not share nearly the same amount of education rigor. When confronted with a potential title change in the veterinary profession, human nurses mistakenly worry that the term “veterinary nurse” will also encompass veterinary assistants. This confusion highlights the need for public awareness of technicians – if the closest human counter-part profession does not understand a technician’s role or certification, how can we expect the general public to know any differently? The veterinary profession must raise awareness to the public about the differences between its assistants and technicians.

Currently, as the veterinary nurse initiative gains a foothold in Ohio, the Ohio Nurses Association and its 170,000 members have fought its new legislation, arguing that the state legally defines the term “nurse” as caring for humans and that no other person or profession may insinuate that they practice as a nurse. With similar nurse title protection in about 24 other states, the veterinary nurse initiative is likely in for its fair share of conflict as it continues to grow.

The debate over the title of veterinary technicians remains controversial both in and outside of the veterinary community. As with any impending change, it is important to recognize its potential benefits and shortcomings in order to formulate the best strategy to improve the profession. If the Veterinary Nurse Initiative ends up being successful, the change will likely empower today’s veterinary technicians and reduce the profession’s current high turnover rates.