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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According to ChildTrends.org, the percentage of youth that have jobs is on the upswing, but it’s still not as high as it was in 2006, before the Great Recession hit in December 2007. When that recession occurred, teenagers took a significant portion of the brunt of unemployment.
There are clear benefits for a teenager when they are employed, and there are benefits for the overall economy, but what are the benefits and challenges for employers? What about your practice? Does it make good sense for you to hire teenagers?
Here are some of the challenges, as well as the numerous benefits of hiring a teenager to work at your practice. Plus, learn some helpful tips on finding the right teen for the job.
Challenges of Hiring Teenagers
One of the most obvious challenges is their lack of experience. This means you’ll need to expend more resources training and/or supervising a teenaged worker and be patient as the learning curve takes place. You will likely need to explain tasks in more detail and answer more questions. After all, this may be his or her very first job. If not, he or she is still near the beginning of life as an employee.
Teenagers are usually more at the mercy of their family’s schedule. They may or may not have their own transportation and they may not have as much control over when family commitments take place. Plus, during the school year, they will have multiple scheduling conflicts, whether it’s because of exams or extracurricular activities. They may have parents who hover over them and this can have a negative impact on the workplace.
You may need to explain policies to them more than once, perhaps about cell phone use at work. Teenagers have likely been surrounded by cell phones for as long as they can remember, and it just feels natural for them to quickly Google something they want to know or answer a text. Policies that just feel natural to you, as an employer, may not make sense to them at all.
Teens may need guidance in how to handle pressure and/or frustration at work, and they may struggle to accept feedback if it’s the first time for them in a workplace setting. They won’t have the same perspectives as older workers, something that will serve as both a positive and a negative.
Their conditions of employment are more subject to regulations, from federal on down, from when they can work, to how many hours, to what safety considerations need to be in place. The latter includes the restrictions on some equipment usage because of hazards. Remember that state laws can be even more restrictive than federal ones, so know what your state requires and restricts. It’s important to know the youth minimum wage (currently at $4.25) and whether your state pushes that to a higher amount. It’s also important to know how long you can pay that youth rate before being required to pay the regular federal minimum wage (currently for the first 90 calendar days before changing to $7.25).
Benefits of Hiring Teenagers
Stereotypical jobs for teenagers include summer employment such as a lifeguard, a camp counselor, or at an ice cream stand. Other common jobs include working in a fast food restaurant or at a retail store during the busy holiday season. In those cases, the benefits of using teenagers are clear: extra help during peak seasons, especially at tourism sites, and/or at a lower pay rate.
Hiring teen workers can reduce your payroll costs, in part because of the youth minimum wage and in part because they are less experienced employees and would receive starting levels of pay. (Note: just because you can pay a teenager a wage lower than the federal minimum wage for a period doesn’t mean you necessarily should. If a reasonable amount of companies in your area are hiring, you may need to offer something more enticing.)
Because teenagers typically work part-time, you can save money on benefits, as well. And, depending upon where your practice is located, you may be able to claim a tax credit for employing teenagers.
Hiring teenagers provide more stability than if you rely upon temporary workers who could suddenly leave your practice if offered regular employment. And the teens you employ part-time may stay with your practice throughout their school years, perhaps even through college. If they decide to stay in the veterinary industry after finishing school, they become a source of experienced employees that are already part of your company’s culture, and trained to your specifications.
Younger employees can bring a fresh perspective to your practice. In fact, many companies today use a reverse-mentoring philosophy in which young workers share perspectives with older ones, on topics such as social media and crowdsourcing.
Young workers usually have higher levels of energy and, when harnessed in the workplace, this can help energize the workers around them. When given appropriate direction, guidance and feedback, teenagers can be extremely productive workers. They can often multi-task especially well, can be quite versatile, and aren’t set in their ways like many older employees.
How to Find the Best Teens for Your Practice
Just like with adult workers, some teens may be a better fit for your practice than others. It helps to talk to school counselors at the local high schools, vocational schools and community colleges to find out how to connect with students who are looking for jobs. They often host job fairs and may have programs to connect job-seeking students with businesses looking to hire.
Referrals from current employees and other people in your network can lead to finding the right teenagers to hire. If you are going to advertise, do so where teens are likely to be. Use social media, for example, rather than local print newspapers. Another effective way to reach young workers is through online job websites such as Indeed.com, ZipRecruiter.com and Monster.com. Regardless of how you share your employment advertisement, when you reach the right person, you will have found a new, young member to benefit your veterinary team.
It has been said many times that employees are our most valuable assets. Without a well-trained, highly motivated staff, it will be difficult for any Practice to achieve its strategic vision and performance goals. Since every Practice will need to hire additional staff at some point, the decision to hire a new employee should not be taken lightly or without careful Talent Acquisition planning. The key to any Talent Acquisition effort is to devise and implement a strategy that will yield the greatest opportunity to attract talent and retain them.
Defining the Job
Every recruitment effort should incorporate strategies to address sourcing, screening, interviewing and selection. Before deciding where, when and how to advertise for a job opening, it is critical to confirm the need for the job still exists. Every Practice needs to accomplish certain basic functions, including reception, patient examination, inventory management, client billing, etc. When a Practice is just starting out, many of these responsibilities are combined into one or more positions. Team members often are responsible for doing anything and everything needed to help run the Practice and job descriptions should reflect this broad array of duties. As a Practice grows and evolves, management needs to analyze and improve the Practice’s organizational structure. Job descriptions will help reveal whether all Practice responsibilities are adequately covered and where responsibilities should be reallocated to achieve a better balance.
As a result, a job description should be reviewed annually to ensure it includes and clarifies information regarding the general and strategic nature of the work to be performed, specific responsibilities and duties and the employee characteristics or competencies needed by the person who will be required to fulfill the job requirements. Knowing these needed attributes will help ensure a Practice has the best possible chance of finding the right individual. In addition, an accurate job description will ensure interested candidates are provided a clear and concise picture of what the job entails and enables the potential employee to assess the relative importance of everything he/she is accountable for, providing a sense of where the job fits in to the Practice as a whole and how the position supports the Practice’s overall goals. If a job description does not exist for the position you are looking to fill, this is the ideal time to create it.
Determining Where to Look
Once your job description is completed, you are ready to craft a job posting that dazzles an ideal candidate by highlighting your Practice’s strengths and the position’s attractiveness. Describe your Practice’s culture, reputation, growth, benefits package, advancement opportunities and even location. Think of your job descriptions and job postings as advertising copy that you have created as an opportunity to highlight what is great about your Practice and to pull in your next high achiever.
Once you have clearly identified what position you are looking to fill, the next step is determining the best places to look. There are various resources that can help you “cast a wider net” about your job opening. The decision of where and how to recruit should be based on an assessment of how difficult you think it will be to find a sufficient number of qualified candidates and how much time, effort and money you are willing to commit to the recruiting process. While some sources are free or relatively inexpensive, others are very costly and may require signing an agreement with outside consultants to pay a percentage of the first year annual salary of the individual you ultimately hire. Be creative in your sourcing because you never know where your next ideal candidate will be present.
Conducting the Interview
The interview provides the hiring manager a perfect opportunity to identify the applicant(s) best qualified and best suited for the Practice. If conducted properly, it offers a valuable opportunity to assess how an applicant will perform the essential functions of the job and whether s/he will fit into the culture of the Practice. However, if handled incorrectly or unprofessionally, you risk alienating a candidate to whom you may want to issue a job offer. To ensure the interview process runs smoothly and without misstep, it is advisable to assign responsibility to one person to act as “gatekeeper” of the recruitment process.
In preparing for the interview, an applicant checklist should be developed to ensure all necessary information and documents have been obtained and distributed to persons involved in the interview and selection process (e.g. job description, application, resume, etc…). Prior to the interview, train the employees involved in the process regarding what questions are and are not permissible (all questions should be job related), interviewing techniques (ask broad, open-ended questions that require an applicant to process what is being asked and develop an appropriate response), behavioral interviewing (questions eliciting responses regarding goals, motivation, and responses to specific situations are valuable in determining if your Practice’s culture and organization structure offer opportunities that match those of the applicant) and ensure all team members know what skills, knowledge and competencies they will be looking for in the applicants. Asking the wrong questions, or asking the right questions in the wrong manner, can result in serious legal problems for a Practice. Only ask questions that will provide information about the person’s ability to do the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Effective interviewers listen more than they talk. Remember, your goal in the interview is to learn as much as you can about the applicant. Be sure to control the pace and flow of the conversation. Once the interview is completed, be sure to thank the applicant for coming to the interview, explain that you are still in the interviewing phase, and inform the applicant that you hope to be making a decision within the next few days/weeks.
Making the Offer
Now that you have completed the interview process and determined whom you want to select, it is time to decide how to extend the job offer. Here, too, there are guidelines you should follow to ensure the entire recruitment process does not fail because you did not act swiftly or decisively enough in the eyes of your chosen candidate. To avoid losing the “right person”, make the offer as soon as possible after the final job interview.
Admittedly, you don’t want to rush the interview process and risk hiring the wrong person. However, the individual you ultimately select may also be actively interviewing with other practices and might receive another offer while you deliberate. By making the offer as soon as possible, you increase your chances of hiring the person you want. Considering you may only have one opportunity to offer the job to that individual, be sure to reemphasize all the benefits of working for your Practice. This is the ideal time to review salary and benefits, paid time off, paid (or unpaid) CE, personal pet care benefits, and any other terms and conditions of employment.
If your Practice includes pre-employment drug screening and background screening as a routine part of the employment process, this testing will need to be done AFTER a contingent job offer of employment has been made. Depending on the level of the job being offered, you may wish to have a formal employment agreement developed by an employment attorney who is knowledgeable about the veterinary industry.
The final step in the interview process entails notifying rejected applicants that they were not selected. This notification is normally accomplished by email or written letter. While there is no requirement for this notification, taking this action sends the message that your Practice respects all applicants and is committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect. Furthermore, you may wish to reconsider a previously rejected applicant at some future date.
On-Boarding the New Hire
On-Boarding is the process by which a Practice acclimatizes its new employees. It is one of the keys for improving productivity, building loyalty and engagement, fostering a stronger team, and helping employees become successful early in their careers with the new Practice. Employee on-boarding includes the processes that allow new employees to learn about the structure, vision, mission, and values of the Practice as well as to complete new-employee paperwork relative to benefits and legal documents such as non-competes, at-will statements and employee handbooks. For some Practices, the employee on-boarding process consists of one or two days of activities; for others, this process may involve a series of activities spanning one or many months.
Veterinary Practices have learned that employee on-boarding is not merely a process for getting new employees to sign off on their new-hire paperwork, but a process that is essential to transitioning a new employee into your Practice. Studies have proven that employee engagement is partially determined by the new employee’s treatment and orientation during the first 30–90 days of employment. A solid employee on-boarding strategy will help build on that loyalty and help with retention and engagement issues throughout an employee’s tenure. The new employee will be anointed into the Practice’s team culture by understanding the Practice’s mission, vision, values and knowing how his/her job responsibilities and performance support the Practice’s overall goals. It is important to engage with recent new hires and ask open-ended questions to determine their level of satisfaction with the Practice to ensure success, improve productivity and ultimately, enhance retention.
In conclusion, Talent Acquisition is a process that requires planning and detailed execution, but when done correctly, the outcome will yield the greatest opportunity to attract and retain the high achiever, ‘A’ player talent for any job position within your Practice.