Staff Training: Teaching, Motivating and Developing Your Team

In the past, some companies offered staff training at two times only: when someone was new to the company and when a problem arose that they wanted to correct. The value of training is so much greater than orientation and problem solving, and today’s companies are more likely to utilize a form of ongoing education, allowing practices to build much more motivated, educated and proactive teams.

The most effective trainings are ones that truly engage your employees, so the quality of what you offer and the topics you choose are of prime importance. It’s also recommended to make a comprehensive, well developed training program, consistently provided, rather than sporadically offering trainings when someone comes up with an idea.

This article will share ways to create a staff training program that truly adds value to your practice and genuinely teaches, motivates and develops your team.

Orientation Training

This is a crucial element of your overall training program because this is when you can share policies and procedures with your new employee; have him or her receive and sign for an employee manual; discuss company culture with your new hire; answer any questions he or she might have; and so much more.

This is the single best time to effectively onboard your new team member, aligning him or her to your practice’s goals and values. Plus, as you consistently onboard each new employee in the same way, this can significantly help in creating a shared team vision, and can go a long way in preventing a conflict of significance from building.

This is also when you can discuss job responsibilities and timelines, along with who reports to whom, where to go for help, and so forth. If you’re going to pair your new employee with a mentor with more experience at your practice, this would be a good time to introduce them and set goals. At your orientation training, you can also share details about your ongoing training program for practice employees.

Ongoing Training Programs

Next, continuing education can be a combination of the following:

  • reviews of the policies and procedures of your practice; this could be, for example, an annual review of the entire employee handbook or reviews of specific sections of it at select times of the year
  • training in new technologies such as your practice software, or with new equipment used to care for animals
  • seminars on topics like active listening, conflict resolution, sexual harassment prevention, leadership development, effective communication, diversity, customer engagement, and productivity

In some instances, members of your practice could lead the training. Other times, bringing in an expert who doesn’t work at the practice can add variety and a valuable outside perspective. Sometimes, this expert could be from another veterinary practice, and he or she can share how his or her workplace successfully handles an aspect of work. Or, the person might not be from the veterinary industry, at all; rather, he or she may be in expert in social media strategies, ones that can be applicable to growing your practice.

As you plan and schedule these trainings, it can be helpful to determine whether you are focusing on enhancing the technical skills of team members or assisting in their personal development—or some of both. The advantage of a combination approach is that your employees will become more educated while also improving upon their critical thinking and problem-solving skills; employees with this range of abilities are more likely to come up with creative solutions to challenges and forward new ideas to consider.

Each practice will, to some degree, have differing needs and goals. As just one example, if employees in your practice are already polished in their writing skills, it would be less likely that you would focus on business writing trainings, whereas, another practice may have employees who need writing enhancement. Conversely, the other practice may have employees who are quite technologically-savvy, while perhaps some of your employees could use supplementary training in software use. Determine what skill gaps exist and fill them.

It can help to partner with relevant associations and community organizations with resources that provide what you’re looking for in employee training. Also, consider asking your employees what they’d like to see in educational opportunities at your practice. You can do an anonymous survey or hold a meeting to discuss possibilities.

You might decide to hold your trainings once a month, perhaps shorter lunch-and-learn sessions, or as breakfast meetings. It’s often better to have shorter trainings more often, rather than longer trainings every once in a while. Do your best to minimize distractions during the trainings so that employees can focus on learning, although this isn’t always possible at a veterinary hospital. There could be a dog needing emergency surgery that arrives in the middle of your lunchtime meeting, but make it a goal to allow employees to truly focus on training materials.

Also, make it fun! Nobody wants to hear lectures that drone on and on, so incorporate movement and interaction, as it makes sense. What about role playing? Turning certain topics into games? Not every single topic will lend itself to a light approach, but it’s surprising how many really can.

Using the Power of Technology

Consider also mixing in some computer-based trainings. For example, there could be a valuable conference going on that was too expensive or too far away for your employees to attend, but you may be able to access it livestreamed, either free or for an affordable fee. Other times, you can buy video recordings of these trainings and use them to educate your employees.

With today’s technology, it’s much easier and cost effective than it used to be to create your own customized trainings. Perhaps you could create an orientation video for new employees that specifically targets your practices policies, work culture, and benefits. You could also highlight the special expertise of the veterinarians, managers or other employees at your practice. Your videos may even become in demand by other practices in need of your knowledge and experience.

Pay attention to how well online trainings work for your employees. Some people learn well from computer learning while others do much better when sitting face-to-face with a teacher. Over time, you’ll discover what mixture works best for your practice.

After a Training Ends

Training shouldn’t take place in a vacuum. It won’t do your practice any good if you provide an excellent training on something such as handling especially fearful animals—and then, because you’re busy, not use the new ideas for calming them down due to time constraints. If something is important enough to become part of a staff training, then it should be important enough to incorporate into your work routines. Managers should be a role model for these behaviors.

Get feedback about trainings from your employees. You could ask them to fill out a brief survey after each session, while their memories are still fresh; and when you’re planning the next year’s trainings, you could ask employees to rate which ones have been the most helpful over the past year. Also, consider asking your skilled employees to lead your trainings.

The Bottom Line

As you enhance the skills, both hard and soft, of your veterinary team, you’ll likely improve the efficiency of your practice, which can boost your profits. More profitable practices can pay their employees a higher wage and offer better benefits. So, it would be accurate to say that training your staff can both grow your practice and serve as a recruitment and retention tool.

Should You Invest in Training and Career Development for Your Employees?

Should you invest in employee training and career development while we are still waiting for the economy to turn around?  Despite economic uncertainty, business savvy Practice Owners know that learning matters and is the key to survival, recovery and future growth.  What are the factors that influence a Practice’s need for providing training/career development?

  • Work environment and workflow changes.
  • The need for different types of jobs.
  • Advancements in technology.
  • Limited opportunity for advancement without certain skills.
  • Organizational philosophy and culture.

Aligning training and career development plans with the strategic goals of the organization is a win-win for all concerned.  A career development path provides employees with an ongoing mechanism to enhance their skills and knowledge, which leads to mastering their jobs and enhancing professional development. Creating a career development path increases employee engagement (a critical driver of business success) and has a direct impact on the entire Practice by improving morale, job/career satisfaction, motivation, retention, productivity, and responsiveness in meeting the Practice’s short term, as well as, long term business objectives. All of these factors have a positive impact on the Practice’s bottom line.

Do you know what really motivates today’s employees?  The top three internal motivators that provide deep personal satisfaction are as follows:

  • Autonomy – the amount of control and discretion in how the work is performed (focus is on the outcomes/results, not the process; decision making)
  • Mastery – to become more efficient and effective at performing a task (the opportunity to learn; teach and educate)
  • Purpose –  the desire to support something larger than ourselves (achieving personal goals, your ‘passion’ in life)

How would you rate job satisfaction at your Practice? Do your employees experience enjoyment as a result of performing the work itself?  Would the following top drivers for job satisfaction be available within your organization?

  • Opportunities to apply one’s talents?
  • Opportunities to succeed?
  • Opportunities to learn?

An additional benefit of investing in training and career development reinforces to your employees that the Practice is concerned with their well-being by providing an avenue to reach individual, personal career goals while growing the Practice.

You may have been thinking about this value proposition of investing in training/career development for your employees and your Practice and wondering what major elements need to be addressed. When framing the dimensions of creating training and career development plans, you should follow these guidelines:

  • Review the Practice’s functional organization chart in support of your mission statement and goals.
    • Analyze the needs of the Practice – do you have the right skill sets in the right positions to advance and sustain your business?
    • Do your employees have the requirements to meet the challenges or are there gaps in their skill levels to perform current or future positions?
    • Are you developing high potential (‘A’ players) employees for your bench strength succession planning?
  • Determine the employee development budget.
    • Plan a realistic budget in which you use internal resources, such as cross-training or web based training (lower costs, convenience).
    • Evaluate the need for specialized training and its impact on the bottom line.
    • Don’t forget competency training that does not necessarily involve technical skills.
  • Create a career development plan for the employee with information obtained in active, participatory discussions with the employee in line with the needs of the Practice.
    • Prepare large but attainable goals with established timeframes to meet the goals.
    • Establish the resources that will be needed in order to reach the goals.
    • Consider impact on staffing so that employees have the opportunity to receive the training/education (don’t plan empty actions).
    • Link the goals to the employee’s performance appraisal (essential component of performance reviews is employee development).
    • Consistently encourage employees to achieve and demonstrate established goals (give him/her the opportunity to use the new skill set).
  • Determine the types of tools/resources that could be used for development purposes (be creative).
    • On the job training.
    • Certification training.
    • E-learning/online training, webcasts.
    • CE, Seminars.
    • Cross-training, lunch & learns, knowledge sharing.
    • Mentoring.
    • Job rotation.
    • Internships, externships.
  • Monitor the employee’s performance in order to evaluate and provide feedback on knowledge gain and skill mastery.
    • Supervisors/Managers are accountable for planning/supporting the employee’s need for time off and the use of other avenues to assist the employee in achieving individual goals as well as the Practice’s goals.

Training and career development are strategic drivers for your Practices’ growth. Think about it as a positive, joint venture. The Practice reaps the benefit of an enhanced expertise that was not in place before and which allows the operations to function more efficiently. At the same time, the employee has satisfied an internal motivator.

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.

Third-Party Harassment at Your Practice: How to Respond

Originally published in Today’s Veterinary Business, February 2019

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

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

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

So, what do you do?

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

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

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

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

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

When Choosing Third-Party Vendors

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

When an Employee Complaint is Made

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note About Client Harassment

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

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

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Managing Social Media Behavior at Your Veterinary Practice

Originally Published by Today’s Veterinary Business, December 2018

Use of the internet, particularly social media, can be a double-edged sword, especially in the workplace. On the plus side, it can be a wonderful vehicle for marketing your practice and otherwise connecting with clients and potential clients. On the darker side, what happens when an employee posts content that can have a negative impact on the practice? Should you respond? If so, how should you respond? If a post is offensive, do you have the option of disciplining, even firing, that employee?

Because people in general are so openly sharing thoughts and opinions on social media, it’s not surprising that many experts believe that terminations based on employees posting inappropriate content will continue to increase. Handling this type of issue at your practice can be challenging for your human resource team, given that this is a fairly new type of problem to tackle – but, finding the right approach is crucial, given that just one post has the potential to blow up into a public relations and human resource disaster.

So, how do you respond to, say, a sexist-sounding post on an employee’s page? Although you don’t want to over-react or react emotionally in the moment, and you don’t want to micro-manage your employees, here’s the crux of the situation, distilled into just one sentence. How much potential damage could a particular post have on your practice’s reputation?

What’s important is that you respond fairly, not allowing one person who, say, has a knack of being humorous in his or her posts more leeway for the same type of material that another employee posts in a more serious manner. And, if you choose not to respond, be aware that you’re still really responding – giving the message that you either are fine with the posts or you aren’t concerned with the messaging. And, although a non-response is sometimes the right choice, in today’s business environment, your practice could also be harmed by this more passive approach.

What You Can – and Cannot – Do

At a minimum, you should create a policy about your employees’ use of social media while at work. Be clear about what an employee can and cannot do, and then consistently adhere to that policy. You have the option of banning social media use entirely while on the job. If, of course, someone’s job includes posting for the practice, you’ll have to clearly delineate what is and isn’t permissible during work hours.

However, you cannot ban employees from talking about work-related issues online when they aren’t at work, and they are legally permitted to discuss topics with one another on social media that fall within protected concerted guidelines. Employees can, for example, discuss their dissatisfaction about management style at the practice, how much they’re getting paid and so forth on Facebook or Twitter, as just two examples.

Employees are not protected and can be fired, though, when they discuss these issues online with someone outside of the practice, as this no longer falls into the category of co-worker dialogue about the workplace. They can also be terminated for sharing information that is deemed confidential, including but not limited to trade secrets.

Employees aren’t protected when talking about a workplace topic that isn’t related to employment terms. If someone calls a manager “lazy,” that communication may ultimately be protected. If the employee posts, though, that the manager is “fat,” then that may open the employee up for termination. Or if an employee posts that “my veterinary office is full of ugly people,” this is leaving the realm of employment-related discussions.

It can be difficult to discern when a post crosses the line, so your practice may need help with an attorney experienced in this type of law to determine legalities of particular posts. Note that laws can differ by state so, if your company has practices in more than one of them, you may not be able to make blanket social media policies. Employee protection is especially strong in California, Colorado, Louisiana, New York and North Dakota. Also, be aware that employee protection about social media postings applies to unionized as well as non-unionized employees.

Hate Speech and Protected Classes

You can fire employees who engage in hate speech. Sometimes a post clearly contains hate speech, while at other times, it is borderline. Hate speech is defined as communication that has no purpose or meaning other than expressing a feeling of hatred for a particular group, perhaps focused on race, ethnicity or gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion and so forth.

When Creating a Social Media Policy for Your Practice

Your policy should contain clear guidelines about what is and isn’t permitted while at work, and also explicitly state that trade secrets and the like must remain confidential. The policy should ask employees to not use social media to post defamatory material that could create a hostile work environment. It is also reasonable to ask them to preface any social media remarks made about the practice online with a disclaimer that you don’t represent your employer’s point of view. It makes good sense to be proactive, too, and run your social media policy past your practice’s attorney.

As a creative solution, some companies are providing social media breaks for their employees throughout the day, perhaps 15 minutes in length, a couple of times per day. This can give everyone a chance to relax and refresh their minds. The goal isn’t to completely restrict your employees from ever using social media (which isn’t do-able, anyhow) but to encourage moderate use in appropriate ways. If you want to use this strategy, outline specifics in your social media policy.

Sharing Your Social Media Policy with Employees

How you share the news about your social media policy can go a long way in determining how well it is received. For example, you could pick a day to get some pizzas for your employees, and use that as an occasion to have a discussion on your social media policy. Explain why having the policy is so important in today’s times, and educate them on the problems that can arise when this form of communication isn’t appropriately used.

As you share the role that social media and its messaging plays in your practice’s culture and values, using a helpful approach is more likely to be successful than leaving the impression that you don’t trust your employees and plan to monitor their every message. And sometimes, by simply educating employees on privacy setting options in social media, you can help to prevent an unpleasant situation.

Share examples of appropriate/acceptable posts and ones that cross the line, and be open to questions, concerns and employee feedback. Getting employees to buy into your policy is a big step forward.

Monitoring Social Media

In general, avoid monitoring a specific employee’s social media accounts to watch for inappropriate comments. If you’re aware of a controversial comment, let that employee know how you plan to investigate and then review the situation with him or her. Then do exactly that.

When you follow up with the employee, get his or her side of the story. In some cases, the comment is so inflammatory that termination may be the only response. Other times, what the employee has to say may provide context that allows for lesser forms of discipline. Remember to be consistent and to follow up appropriately with everyone involved at the practice. As needed, update your social media policy and share it with all of your employees.

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