Employment Contracts To Reel In Associate Specialists

Turnover among veterinary specialist associates is caused principally by the failure of practice owners and employees to properly articulate their respective expectations and negotiate and document the employment relationship. Time and effort invested up front will help avoid mismatched expectations, misunderstandings and separation down the road.

 

Can the practice even afford another full-time veterinarian?  Management consultants estimate that a small animal practice vet needs to produce a minimum of $180,000-$250,000 gross income (excluding OTC product sales) to be worth his salary.   This number is far greater for veterinary specialists…..probably at least 3 times.

 

  1. WHAT IS AN EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT? A contract is a set of bargained for promises between two or more people, where one party promises to do X in exchange for another party’s promise to do Y.  Courts require that an enforceable promise meet certain conditions.  For example, the parties must be of age (no minors), of sound mind, and not under duress; there must be no fraud or mutual mistake over an important aspect of the transaction, and the deal must not be so one-sided as to be “unconscionable.”

 

            Consideration.  To distinguish binding promises from charity or gifts (you can’t sue Santa Claus because he didn’t give you enough presents last year), the law requires that the party to whom the promise is made give “consideration” for the promise in the form of a benefit to the promissor and/or detriment to the promisee.  Thus, Dr. Specialist promises to work 40 hours per week in consideration for an annual salary of $125,000 (i.e., a benefit to Dr. Specialist and detriment to Dr. Owner ).  Dr. Owner promises to pay such salary to Dr. Specialist in consideration for Dr. Specialist’s labor (benefit to Dr. Owner and detriment to Dr. Specialist).  Consideration exists for each promise which is therefore enforceable.

 

Avoid Oral Contracts.  Oral contracts generally are binding only if their performance lasts less than a year, because the law assumes that the parties’ recollections of what was agreed to become unreliable over time, increasing the tendency to remember events in a self-serving way.  Few disagreements are less productive than the “you promised X,” “I don’t remember X but you promised Y” litany.  Prevent such wasteful bickering by always insisting on a written contract, regardless of it’s term.

 

  1. CONTRACT FORMATION. Legal theory provides that a contract is formed once an offer is accepted.   Real life usually is a lot messier.

 

Offer   An offer can be oral or written (e.g., employer advertisement in a professional journal, on a bulletin board or mailed to the applicant).  Typically, the prospective employee will ask for clarification and wish to change the terms of the original offer by making a counter-offer.  The employer counters such counter-offer with his own counter-counter-offer. This confusing and frustrating process continues until either the parties reach an agreement or, realizing they can’t make a deal, go their separate ways.

 

Acceptance  Legally, the contract is formed as soon as the offer is accepted.  This can be a trap for an impulsive party who accepts an offer, but who later asks for “just one more thing.”  After acceptance, it’s too late and the other party can sue for damages if the impulsive party doesn’t perform his or her obligations under the originally accepted offer.

 

Ideally, an accepting party will clearly indicate his acceptance to the offering party, at best by signing an employment agreement or acknowledging acceptance in writing on the offer.  More difficult to prove, but still unambiguous is an oral “I accept” or words to that effect.

 

Avoid unclear contract formation situations. Courts have created the so-called “action in reliance” (promissory estoppel) doctrine to find enforceable contracts even when one of the parties thought no contract existed.  Courts have found valid contracts in cases where an:

 

  • employer knew or should have known that the employee had acted “ in reliance upon the offer” such as incurring expenses to move to the job location, searching for lodging thereat, and informing other employers they no longer are job applicants; and

 

  • employee made the last offer or counter-offer, and such employee knew or should have known that in reliance thereon, the employer ceased advertising for the position, informed candidates that the job was filled, or bought new equipment or hired additional support staff in anticipation of the employees arrival.

 

Accordingly, a party considering an offer should not talk or act in a way it knows or should know will lead the other party to believe that such offer was accepted and should make sure that the other party is not taking action “in reliance” on anything it did or said.

 

III.      CONTRACT TERMS.  Assuming that the offer, counter-offer, counter-counter offer, etc. ballet results in the bliss of acceptance, the employment contract terms contain the nuts and bolts of the “meeting of the minds” of the parties.   Following is a list of the main questions addressed in a proper employment agreement:

 

  1. How Long?  Is there a fixed term (period) of employment (six months, one year, two years, or is it “at-will” (i.e., the contract continues until a party decides to terminate it)?  Is the term automatically renewed on the expiration date?

 

  1. Work Schedule.  How many scheduled hours per week must the employee work, and beyond the schedule, how many additional hours will employees actually spend phoning clients, performing diagnostics, interpreting laboratory work, overseeing patient care, etc.  What is the schedule for any required emergency work?  Is it equitable?

 

  1. Duties.  What are the associate’s responsibilities?  May employees decline (without penalty) to perform procedures they deem ethically wrong?  How much emergency duty is required? Will they be required to visit rDVMs, engage in marketing activities?

 

  1. Compensation:  How Much?   Is It Enough?

 

How Much?

Serious job applicants must know the relevant “comparables” in their labor market, i.e., what compensation is paid to other starting associate veterinarians in the area were they are seeking employment.

 

Is it Enough?

Currently, the salaries that are being paid to different specialists is not well documented.  The AAHA/Care Credit 2005 Specialty & Referral Veterinary Practice Benchmark Study and ACVIM proceedings from the Hill’s Practice Health Symposium, titled “Insights on Veterinary Specialty Practice Productivity” are a sampling of the few publications that have salary figures.    Regardless of the trends, however, debt ridden veterinary specialists cannot assume that current salaries will permit them to survive (let alone live comfortably).  So the first question isn’t really “how much are they paying?” but rather “what do I need to pay my debts, buy cold cereal and go to a few movies?”

 

The only way to answer this question is by doing a budget. Budgets undoubtedly are one of the most boring tasks in the world, but boring beats finding out that you can’t make ends meet six months after you’ve been hired.  Technology has reduced the pain of budgeting, so there is no excuse for not doing it.  Any financial software program worth its salt will permit veterinary graduates to establish a budget.  See attached form to assist in determining one’s budget.  You can also do a budget on the following website: Personal Finance Simulator 2011(www.finsim.umn.edu)

 

Tips for Making More Money

As discussed below, a common way for associate veterinarians to increase their compensation is to join a practice, which pays them a percentage of the collected income they generate.  Other ways include working additional shifts, and working at another practice is the employer will permit it.

 

Compensation Types: Flat Salary, Percentage Income And Performance Bonuses

Generally, there are three types of veterinary associate compensation: (1) flat salary; (2) commissions based on a percentage of the income generated by the associate; and (3) a hybrid of flat salary and commissions.

 

Flat Salary

Flat salary (a fixed amount per year), is a common form of associate compensation.  A fixed salary provides the veterinary associate with the security of a predictable income.  It is also simple to keep track of.  Associate veterinarians earning flat salaries, however, cannot increase their compensation, no matter how much income they generate for the practice or how hard they work.  Flat salaries are not preferred by new graduates looking for the opportunity to increase their compensation in exchange for a greater contribution to the practice.

 

Straight Commission

The straight commission system simply replaces the flat salary with a commission.  The straight commission scheme link the dollars veterinary associates earn with their contribution to practice revenues.  Because practice revenues (and the commissions) will vary month to month, associates will have a more difficult time managing the repayment of their student debt.

 

Hybrid Systems

Under a hybrid compensation system veterinary associates are paid a guaranteed base salary plus an income production bonus equal to the percentage of the collected income they generate in excess of a certain target.  The base salary provides security, as well as a predictable income stream with which to service student debt.  This is a significant advantage over the straight commission system.

 

Production Compensation Pitfalls

While production compensation usually permits new graduates to increase their compensation, the system does have its problems and pitfalls.  By carefully examining practice operations and asking the right questions, prospective associate veterinarians should be able to either avoid these pitfalls or at least reduce their impact.

 

  • Assigning Cases and Receptionist Gate Keepers.
  • Staff Efficiency and Leverage.
  • Data Processing and Definition Issues.
  • Competition and Distrust Among Veterinarians.

 

  1. Employee Benefits.  Practices usually offer at least some of the employee benefits described below to their employees.  The cost of many benefits (such as health, professional, and disability insurance, qualified retirement plans) are tax deductible business expenses to the employer and are not included in the employee’s income, resulting in a savings to the employee of 25 to 40%.  Not taking advantage of this juicy gift from Uncle Sam is wasteful.  On the other hand, employees must realize that the practice probably can’t afford all the benefits they desire.

 

  • Health Insurance. Does the employer offer health insurance?  If not, what does the employer do when he gets sick?  If so, what kind of medical plan is it (e.g., fee for service, HMO, PPO)?  What about pre-existing conditions, vesting, eligibility, deductibles and co-payments?

 

  • Disability Insurance.  Employees at age 25 have a 58% chance of becoming disabled for more than three months (with an average disability duration of three years), so employees need disability insurance to protect their greatest asset: the ability to work.  If the employer does not offer disability insurance, employees are well advised to get it on their own (after asking, of course how the employer, protects himself or herself against disability).

 

  •  Professional Liability Insurance.  Do employers pay the premiums on the employees’ professional liability insurance?

 

  • Retirement Plans.  Has the employer established a retirement plan for the employees? (Profit sharing plans are the most common type of retirement plan offered by veterinary practices.)  When do employees become “vested” or “eligible?”  If the employer does not offer a retirement plan, employees will need to save on their own (and that means more than just the annual IRA contribution).

 

  •   One week?  Two weeks?  More?  How many consecutive days may be taken?   How much advance notice must be given?  May unused vacation days be carried forward to next year?  How are vacation days paid for percentage compensated employees?

 

  • Sick Leave and Disability.  Does the employer offer paid sick leave?  Disability leave?  After how long can disabled employees be terminated?  May unused sick days be carried forward?

 

  • Continuing Education. How many CE leave days are granted and are they paid? To what extent do employers reimburse CE expenses?

 

  • Association Dues.  Are national, state,  local and specialty veterinary association dues reimbursed?

 

  • Veterinary License Fees and DEA Registration.  Are these fees paid by the employer? Should the employee register with the DEA so she is permitted to prescribe and order controlled substances (rather than just administer them under the supervision of a DEA licensed veterinarian)?

 

  • Relocation (moving) expenses.  Most corporate and government employers provide some form of moving expense.  Sometimes a “signing bonus” or short term loan can cover all or part of these costs.

 

  • Vehicle allowance or mileage payments. Employees using their personal vehicles for practice business should be reimbursed for a pro-rata portion of their insurance, general maintenance, registration and inspection fees, fuel, repairs, depreciation, and lost opportunity costs.

 

  1. Performance Evaluation.  Will the employer provide written and/or oral performance evaluations?  How often?  Will these be used to modify compensation?

 

  1. Non-Competition.  Many employers require their employees to sign non-competition clauses (also called restrictive covenants) forbidding terminated employees from competing with the employer.  Such clauses must be limited in time (e.g., 2-3 years after termination) and geographic area (e.g., 25-50 air-miles from the practice) to be enforceable. The precise limits on the scope of such clauses vary from state to state.  Specialists typically have a larger radius as the trade area for specialty practices is much larger than a generalist’s.

 

  1. Termination.   Does the contract have a specific term (e.g., “this agreement will expire after one year”) or is it employment “at-will”, in which case, either party can terminate the relationship at any time, for any reason? Contracts with no term are deemed to be “at-will” in most states.  If there is a term, then an employee leaving or an employer firing before the term would constitute a breach unless the contract provides otherwise.  Most contracts which provide for termination before the expiration of the term require that the terminating party give advance notice (e.g., 90 days) to the other party.  Such contracts usually also contain a list of situations (e.g., suspension of the associate veterinarian’s license) permitting the employer to fire the employee at any time without notice (a.k.a. termination “for cause”).

 

Employees should make every effort to leave their employer on good terms even if they are not requesting a reference.  The veterinary industry is quite small, and an employee’s reputation can easily suffer through casual conversation among colleagues.

 

  1. LAWYER REVIEW. Negotiating and drafting an employment contract can be long, painful and complicated.  It therefore makes as much sense to seek professional help in this endeavor as it does to take a pet to a qualified veterinarian when it is sick.  Lawyers are expensive, of course, just as much as veterinarians…

Four Benefits New Employees Want Today

In today’s times, employers are finding that they need to make their workplaces as appealing as possible to recruit and retain employees. In the past, it may have worked reasonably well for a company to advertise for employees, interview candidates, select the best ones, and then tell them what benefits were available.

Today’s reality is quite different, with new employees now having certain needs and desires that aren’t necessarily the same as those valued by Baby Boomers. Although employers are still interviewing job candidates to find the right person to hire, quality employees are also using the interview process to decide which company is the best fit for them.

This may be even more true in the veterinary industry than in the overall workforce, as the shortage of veterinarians, nurses, and technicians becomes even more acute. Here are insights into four benefits being desired today.

Life-Work Balance

Although quality employees are still willing to work hard, today’s graduates greatly value life-work balance. One recent Gallup survey indicated that 53 percent of employees today place a premium on this kind of balance and, as new graduates continue to come into the workplace, that number is likely to continue to increase. Because this balance was found to be even more valuable to females, this benefit is especially important to note in industries that are often female-dominated–such as the veterinary industry.

Because of this shift in values, practices that want to attract an all-star team will need to consider how they can incorporate flex-time schedules. This can feel challenging, given that patients typically need to be treated in the same room as the veterinary professionals, making it difficult to allow employees to simply telecommute.

Instead, practices may need to provide more flexibility within the jobs themselves. For example, practice managers can focus on matching up job responsibilities with the interests of each employee. Or, it could mean allowing employees to swap positions on certain days to give them variety in what they do, which can help to strengthen teamwork.

One of the most desired ways to offer flexibility, though, will be to help employees accommodate their personal schedules and needs within a workweek. For example, how can you facilitate shift switching in a way that covers the needs of your practice but allows employees to meet demands from their personal lives? How can you adjust start times or lunch breaks to accomplish the same objective?

Is it possible to rearrange schedules to allow employees to have four-day workweeks? That’s another perk that’s increasingly in demand today.

A 2015 Workplace Trends study showed that flexibility was named the most important benefit by 75 percent of employees. Organizations who help to provide that flexibility have benefited in the following ways:

  • improved employee satisfaction (87%)
  • increased productivity (71%)
  • retained current talent (65%)

Plus, 69 percent of the workplaces surveyed use flex-time options in their recruiting, with 54 percent of them believing this had a positive effect on recruitment.

Learning Stipends/Continuing Education

Learning stipends are cash benefits offered to employees that they can use for professional development or continuing education. Many employees today want to continue to learn—with one study showing that 87 percent of Millennials consider the opportunity to continue to grow and develop a key benefit. In turn, this lifelong-learning, more educated workforce can provide significant benefits to the veterinary practice.

Encouraging a learning mindset in your practice culture, and helping to provide educational opportunities not only helps your employees to grow personally, but also in a way that makes them even more valuable to your practice. If providing learning stipends to employees isn’t practical for you, then find out what employees feel they want to learn more about and provide workshops. One example of this option would be organizing lunch and learn events at your practice.

Mentorships Matter

As a related desire, employees today often want to know that they will be mentored by an experienced person in the industry. This can mean someone who will help to navigate the new hire through the workplace culture, and/or to understand policies and procedures. Each person may have slightly different needs when it comes to mentoring, but it’s an in-demand benefit, one that can boost the strength of the practice when handled well.

Mentoring helps transition new employees into a particular workplace and, the more quickly that a new hire feels comfortable and part of a team, the more likely that he or she will want to stay at that job.

Also, consider incorporating reverse mentoring, where the new hires help to mentor more established employees in areas of their expertise. This concept was created in 1999 in General Electric, with many other prominent companies adopting the program.

One of the key benefits experienced by one such company is that they experienced a 96 percent retention rate for the Millennials involved in reverse mentoring. These employees felt valued for their contributions to the company, and this gave them a chance to work more closely with senior employees. This can also help to create a more diverse workforce and pipeline of incoming human resource talent.

Finally, though reverse mentoring, younger employees can help more established ones to stay on the cutting-edge of technological opportunities that may benefit the practice. One large insurance company pairs older IT employees with new ones to discuss best practices and key trends, and to otherwise maximize potential of the company.

What’s important to think about is how reverse mentoring might benefit your practice. Reasons may not be the same ones as those at the large companies being referenced in this article—and they may not be the exact same ones as the veterinary practice down the street. It’s important to think about your business and workplace culture needs, and then create corresponding pairings and reverse mentoring structures.

Appropriate Technology

New employees in the veterinary industry will likely perk up their ears when they hear that a certain employer has invested in or has access to the best technology to treat their patients. Tech-enabled workplaces are simply more appealing to many of today’s job candidates. And, the use of technology to recruit and retain star employees can go way beyond the technology used to care for patients, helping to create an engaged workforce.

You could, for example, provide quality continuing education through the use of online courses or a training and development center that employees can self-access. Gamification in training may well appeal to the younger generation at your practice, creating a fun way to raise the bar on what employees are expected to know.

With gamification, training is provided in an interactive, engaging way that uses elements of games to help users immerse themselves in the experience. If this idea is new to your practice, this ties back into a previous strategy to use; you could ask your new employees to reverse mentor the team on the use of gamification e-learning.

Technology can help employees to collaborate and communicate, with conversations stored for future reference. You can use the power of your website to share your workplace culture with potential employees, letting them see how you understand their needs and focus on finding ways to fulfill them as, collaboratively, you build the best veterinary practice possible.

Conclusion

To maximize your practice, it’s important to stay in tune with what new employees desire. This can happen by reading industry reports, reviewing human resource surveys and studies, talking to your current employees, and using your interviews of new employees as opportunities to also learn more about what benefits and workplace cultures are important to them.

You will likely find that work-life balance, continued learning, mentorships, and technology are discussed. You may also discover new ways to effectively recruit and retain the ideal veterinary team that will allow you to compete in the industry and provide quality patient care.

Understanding your Worth and Using it to Earn More Salary

Experts today often discuss the importance of being empowered, and feeling that way can be a key part of living a full and healthy life. But, take a second look at that phrase—being empowered—and you’ll see that it actually refers to a passive process, of other people empowering you. We’d like to suggest that, instead, you should empower yourself by understanding what you’re truly worth, embracing a philosophy of lifelong learning, and then using that combination to earn more money in the workplace. The following steps can help you achieve those goals.

#1 Conduct a Realistic Self-Assessment

There are self-assessment tests online, and there are consultants who can help you with this process. If you can be honest with yourself, you can do your own assessment. At its core, self-assessment is a process whereby you determine your strengths and weaknesses, and their value. Strengths can include:

  • work experience
  • educational degrees and certifications
  • volunteer and other non-paid experience
  • leadership skills
  • communication skills
  • organization skills
  • strong work ethic
  • problem-solving skills
  • good judgment
  • flexibility
  • self-discipline and initiative
  • analytical ability
  • empathy

This is just a partial list of what you could consider your strengths during your self-assessment process. To brainstorm an even more complete list, it could help to use Google to find additional traits and experiences to include; sites that focus on resume writing, for example, often have an excellent list to browse through and consider.

You can use the same list to determine which of these are your weaknesses—meaning any educational, personal and work-related areas where you could use more bolstering of skills. When you create an actual list of weaknesses, note where you are already working on improving that skill gap, and then brainstorm ways you can further your worth even more.

As noted in the subheading of this step, it’s important to create a realistic list. If you’re too modest, then you’re likely undervaluing yourself in the workplace, which means you may be earning less than you deserve. If this resonates with you, why are you doing this? How can you build your self-esteem? Were you taught growing up that bragging was inappropriate, and that humbleness was a virtue? If so, then the task in front of you is to work on being honest about your accomplishments in a professional way.

Conversely, if your self-perception is higher than the reality, you may ultimately suffer negative consequences. It may enable you to convince a supervisor that you deserve a promotion and a raise, but if you can’t perform appropriately then you may get negative reviews and eventually lose that job. Take a step back and realistically self-assess. Then boost your skills, both hard skill sets and soft ones.

#2 Create an Ongoing Improvement Plan

Few of us can rest on our laurels. For example, if you’d like to continue to advance in your career and continue to raise your salary, then it makes sense to use your self-assessment list to create an ongoing plan for further advancements.

It can be beneficial to have a trusted mentor to serve as your sounding board. This can help if you tend to be overly critical of yourself, as well as if you internally overstate your levels of job performance. When choosing a mentor, select one who can offer direct, constructive feedback; you may discover that you could use more than one mentor. Perhaps one is excellent in giving feedback about your actual job skills and performance, while another can guide you towards your goal of being more empathetic towards clients.

If you have mentors, focus on being open to hearing what they have to say, putting aside any feelings of defensiveness. If you have the right mentors, those who have your best interests at heart, then actively listening can provide you with excellent gifts of insight. (If you don’t think you have the right mentors, then that’s another situation entirely, and one that needs to be addressed.)

Take notes as your mentors offer feedback so you can refer to them and reflect. This can help you to gauge progress and it also shows your mentors that you’re committed to the process and the time they’re dedicating to help you.

#3 Formulate Your Personal Branding Statement

Once upon a time, branding was for products. In today’s times, personal branding is key, and when properly articulated, it can serve as a beacon for understanding your true worth at work. When you create a personal branding statement, you are stating what makes you unique and valuable, and this helps you to proclaim your worth in the workplace in a professional way.

Remember when, at the start of this article, we differentiated between being empowered and empowering yourself? The reality is that if you don’t present a certain brand, others will decide your brand for you. Which would you prefer?

Questions to ask yourself as you create this statement include what you stand for and what you advocate for. What do you aspire to do now? In five years? Ten? In what areas of work would you make a good participant? A great leader? Where are you continuing to advance?

Here is a starter statement: I am focused on developing profitable new lines of service at work, while cultivating authentic relationships based on trust and respect. My ability to stay calm in crises is a central tenet of my leadership skills.

After you’re clear about your personal branding, think about how to most effectively articulate it—not only in words, but also in how you act and interact each day, as well as doing what you say. If you don’t do exactly what you say, make sure it’s because you over-deliver, not under-perform. Your appearance is also important. This doesn’t mean wearing the fanciest attire, but it does mean the most appropriate. Being well groomed always matters.

The way you treat someone when it doesn’t necessarily benefit you may be the litmus test that determines whether you truly believe in and live out your branding. Your personal branding statement isn’t an overblown marketing slogan, written just to pull out of your pocket when you want to get ahead of the next person. It should always accurately reflect the authentic, genuine you.

#4 Asking for More Money

By living life as an ongoing learner, always filling in gaps and improving yourself personally and professionally, you are creating a scenario where you deserve more money. Sometimes you also need to ask for that extra cash.

Entire books have been written on how to ask for a raise. Overall, it involves research and preparation. Be prepared to discuss your accomplishments and how, specifically, they have added value and will continue to add value to your workplace. Quantify benefits whenever you can while also discussing how they add to the quality of the company and customer service provided.

Be aware of what the industry standards are for your position, and if you’re asking to be paid on the high end, be ready to share why you’re worth it and how you can continue to move the company forward, including financially. Be courteous and clear in your request and consider how much more responsibility you’d be willing to take on if that’s a counteroffer given.

Practice giving your pitch in front of a mirror. Watch your body language. Is that the image you want to portray? Practice your pitch in front of your mentor and/or other trusted colleagues. What feedback did you receive? What did you think of any comments made and how does that change your pitch? You don’t need to use all feedback that’s given, but thoughtful consideration of advice provided by intelligent professionals is wise.

Anticipate questions you may be asked and consider how you might answer them. Conversely, don’t create prepared answers that may sound stiff in the meeting with your supervisor, and may not precisely fit the actual conversation that’s taking place

Prepare your response in case the answer is “no”. Could you counteroffer by asking to meet again in six months to discuss the requested raise? If not, what does make sense as a next step?

At a minimum, this conversation demonstrates that you value yourself and gives you a chance to discuss your contributions with your supervisor. It may ultimately lead to a raise at your current workplace or it may give you confidence to job seek elsewhere, in a place where your skills can be put to even better use with better compensation given.

Bonus: Pay It Forward

As you continue to move forward in your career, any advancements that you make will likely have occurred—at least in part—because of mentors and other supportive professionals. So, it makes sense to consider how you can pay them back by paying it forward. Ways you can do that include the following:

  • serving as a mentor/role model to others
  • helping others in less formal ways
  • encouraging co-workers who are feeling down
  • introducing people in your industry who could likely help one another
  • complimenting people who are going the extra mile
  • keeping calm in an office crisis

The various ways to pay it forward are as unique as you are. Once you have figured out how to empower yourself and increase your net worth, take the time to help others do the same.

Issues to Negotiate in Contracts Seen in Practice

When you’re offered a job at a veterinary practice, it’s important to get as much information as possible about the specifics. You’ll typically be offered a certain wage, often along with benefits such as health insurance, retirement benefits, vacation time and the like. But the offer may not mention workplace flexibility and other perks that can have a significant impact on your job – and so it’s crucial to negotiate all of the key elements of the offer.

Many people feel uncomfortable when negotiating a work package, but gaining the ability to negotiate well help you to be more successful at work long after you’ve begun a particular job. As a part of a veterinary practice team, you may need to negotiate with vendors, and with challenging clients – and almost certainly there will be times that you need to negotiate with your employer about a raise, a revised benefits package, and evolving workplace perks and policies.

When you negotiate fair compensation for yourself, you will become more committed to the practice, which translates into better care for the practice’s clients and their pets. As an employer, when you negotiate fairly with employees, you will help to build loyalty that will stabilize and strengthen your practice.

What Negotiations Are & Why They’re Needed

A negotiation is a process in which two or more parties attempt to resolve differing needs and interests through a series of communications. An employer, for example, 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 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, because 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. There are many reasons for not wanting to negotiate, but some common reasons include the following:

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, 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.

Other people have an aversion to conflict, overall, and so they miss out on the potential of it by not negotiating, in order to avoid feeling vulnerable.

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 can be 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.

What NOT to Do

Beware of “between”! It probably feels reasonable to ask for a certain salary range – or range for a raise. But if you do that with a current or prospective employer, you have basically tipped your hand as far as how low you would go. Using the word “between” is actually a concession!

Another risky term: “I think we’re close.” A savvy negotiator will recognize “deal fatigue” on your end and perhaps stall in the hopes that you’ll concede, just to complete the deal.

Negotiating with Brokers

If you’re buying or selling a veterinary practice, then your negotiating skills will likely come in handy. For example, let’s say you’re selling a practice. In your listing agreement contract, you’ll typically need to agree to a period of time wherein the broker has exclusive rights to sell, perhaps six months or a year. If you’re not satisfied, can you terminate the agreement? It depends! It depends upon how well you negotiated the original contract with the agent. You may, for example, negotiate a clause stating that you can terminate the listing immediately for good cause or with a short period of prior notification if the termination is without cause. In exchange for that clause being included, perhaps you’ll agree to reimburse expenses incurred by the agent during the listing period and/or pay commission if the buyer is one that the agent initially identified.

Negotiating Lab Contracts

You’ll probably also need to negotiate contracts with labs that provide diagnostic services for your practice. You can work on a pay-as-you-go arrangement, sending work to different labs, as needed. The flaw is that you won’t get the financial incentives offered to practices who sign contracts. By signing a contract, you can negotiate lower fees or better rate schedules. When you pay less in lab fees, you could decide to offer lower rates to your customers, which will probably make more of them agree to pay for diagnostic testing in the first place. If you sign a multi-year contract with a lab, you may also be able to lease in-house lab equipment as part of the deal.

For Best Results

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. Overall, 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

Know what’s most important to you, run the figures, and negotiate for what you want!

 

Delivering Great During-Visit Service

Here’s a simple, straightforward and universally true statement that will set the context for this entire article: You’ll retain more clients if you treat them well. This includes treating them well while they’re at your practice for an appointment. One of the most effective ways to boost your level of service is to put yourself in the shoes of a client as he or she walks in your front door.

  • How is the client greeted? How personalized is that greeting?
  • How welcoming is the waiting area? How comfortable?
  • How neat and clean is that area? How fresh does it smell?
  • How professional does the reception team look and act?
  • How long do clients need to wait to be taken to a room?
  • How long do they have to wait to talk to a veterinarian?
  • If there is a delay in service, how is that situation handled?

Take a look at your answers to these questions. If you are proud of your responses, then you’re already ahead of much of the competition. However, if the questions point out areas of service that can be improved, that’s not unusual. If that is the case, what action plan will you create?

To help create an improvement plan, you can ask a trusted friend to walk into the practice and then offer you his or her impression of what the area looks like; what is heard during their time in the waiting area; and what overall impression this experience gives about the veterinary practice.

As part of your hiring practices, remember the importance of soft skills as you interview people for a position. Your during-visit services will automatically be more appealing if clients are greeted by receptionists who enjoy engaging with other people, versus those who see client interactions as a necessary—but not necessarily enjoyable—part of their jobs.

Little things can make a big difference throughout the visit, and when you remember to focus on the client, this will likely boost his or her loyalty to you and your practice.

 

Greeting Clients

What happens when a client first walks into your lobby sets the tone for the entire visit. Quick ways to help clients feel valued include standing when he or she enters the lobby area, and slightly leaning towards the client and pet to show interest in them. Greet people with a friendly smile and make eye contact. Some receptionists like to shake hands with clients, while others prefer to offer a friendly greeting without the handshake involved. And, if you normally do like to shake hands, consider skipping this step during cold and flu season.

Providing coffee or other refreshments for clients while they wait can make them feel cared for. The receptionists can offer it during check-in, especially if someone is new to your practice. Even if the client declines, it can make a good first impression. Also, check to make sure you have the correct contact information for each client, doing so in a way that feels conversational, not rushed or rote.

Managers should train the front desk staff on how to enforce hospital policies that are intended to protect clients and pets.  The staff needs to be able to explain their importance to the clients and why these policies were created in the first place. If a dog is off leash, for example, the receptionist would ask to have him put on leash, gently sharing how that helps protect others in the waiting room.

If possible, have separate waiting areas for cats and dogs to reduce the stress on both the animals and their owners. Another option is to use a room divider. Hooks for coats and umbrella stands are little things that can make the room feel more welcoming, too.

During the Wait

Let’s say that appointments at your practice are running 15-minutes behind schedule. There are ways to help make this wait seem shorter for your clients. This includes providing fresh reading material in the waiting room. Your practice can also give out pictures of cats and dogs for restless children to color while they wait. Hanging interesting artwork on the wall can also help.

Update the clients about their current wait time when you can, adding in bits of friendly conversation, whenever possible, to make the time feel less tedious. It may be helpful if you share with them why the practice is running late. It’s also courteous to tell the client how much you appreciate his or her patience.

Avoid sitting and chatting with your coworker while the client waits, unless you make it clear that the client is free to join in. Also, never “talk shop” or gossip whatsoever.

Soft music playing in the background can be soothing, while offering free Wi-Fi can help clients to check in at work or connect with family while waiting. Posting pictures of happy clients and their pets, along with thank you notes from them, can create an upbeat atmosphere. The use of air purifiers can make the waiting experience more pleasant for your clients.

It can also help to have disposable bowls available for cats and dogs so they can have a drink of fresh water. Even if they aren’t interested, their owners will likely appreciate the gesture.

During the Consultation

The most important aspect of a consultation is to provide personalized service to the client standing in front of you. Although it can be hard to put aside what may have just happened with a previous client, the person and pet who are currently there for an appointment want and deserve your full attention.

Smiling as you meet a client’s new kitten can go a long way in cementing your relationship; so can empathy if euthanasia needs to be discussed. Use the client’s name and the pet’s name during your conversation and explain what you’re doing and why. At the end, ask if the client has any questions and use clear language in explaining what wasn’t understood. Help clients to understand why you’re recommending things such as bloodwork or a change in their pet’s diet. The “why” can improve the odds that the client will agree to those recommendations.

Try to appropriately balance the time that a client spends with a technician versus the time spent with the veterinarian. Situations vary, but it often makes sense for veterinarians to spend more time with a new pet, while still giving ongoing clients enough time and attention.

After the Consultation

When the consultation ends, your team gets another chance to explain instructions to the client and answer their questions regarding the treatment of their pet, the invoice or something else entirely.

Provide each client with a written summary of what took place during the visit, including any key findings. Highlight when the next visit is scheduled, if relevant, and make sure the client has any food, medications or preventatives that were purchased during this visit. If you know that your client typically buys certain items, such as a medicated shampoo, you can ask if refills are needed.

If the client needs help getting an animal back to the car, provide that service. Better yet, offer it to everyone. Keep umbrellas on hand for when it’s raining and use them as you escort the client and pet to the appropriate vehicle. When a client needs to carry out something such as a heavy bag of dog food, or is juggling a cat carrier with two small children, jump up to assist them. They will appreciate your kindness.

What to Consider as Next Steps

Which of these ideas has your practice already implemented? What are the next steps you’ll be adding to boost your during-visit service to the next level? What’s on your wish list for someday? Consider the steps that you can take today to begin transforming your wish list into a reality.