How to motivate practice staff - Veterinary Practice
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How to motivate practice staff

Having highly motivated staff will lead to a better environment at work, improved staff retention and a more efficient workplace

How often have you wished that your staff would go just that little bit further, both for the practice and the client? How often have you heard that you can’t force someone to go the extra mile, that they have got to want to do it for themselves?

It is true – motivation cannot be imposed; it must come from within. But it is also true that practices can create structures that bring out the best in people. If done properly, you too can have staff chomping at the bit willing to stay a little longer at the end of the day to help a client.

Your ideal is a workplace that does well financially, but that is also fun to be a part of, where staff willingly work hard and push themselves further. And with the rise of the corporately owned practice, getting this right gives you a good chance of beating the multiples – after all, people buy people, and a strong service ethic will rub off on your clients.

No one wants to go to work and waste their time; everyone wants to feel like they are achieving and doing something useful

Offer work that is important and useful

No one wants to go to work and waste their time; everyone wants to feel like they are achieving and doing something useful. Managers of practices, no matter how small, need to create the feeling in staff that their work has a sense of purpose. As a manager, you need to see that every task is necessary. If a task cannot be excised but is dull and offers little satisfaction, you need to either rework it or spread the load around so that everyone – including the management – takes some of the pain. Similarly, you need to find a way of explaining to all that even these tasks have a purpose which eventually leads to the greater good.

You may have heard of the apocryphal story that involved President Kennedy’s visit to NASA in 1962. The story suggests that Kennedy saw a cleaner carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?” “Well, Mr President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” The point is any job can have purpose – you just need to find and communicate it.

Employ the right staff

Employment law is very prescriptive about the recruitment process and what employers can and cannot do. However, there is nothing to stop you seeking out high achievers (on a non-discriminatory basis), because by definition they will be self-starting, self-motivating and their enthusiasm will rub off and raise the morale of the others.

By extension, the law allows you, through a fair process, to remove those who underperform or who are not team players. If they are not working for the practice, they need to leave before they irreparably infect other employees. Remember – take good legal advice before acting to make sure that you follow the law carefully.


You manage, and others do. That is the whole point of having staff and you being a manager. But think about it, no one likes to have their boss looking, watching everything that they are doing. Assuming you have employed people correctly, you ought to be able to delegate tasks and assume that they have been done correctly to your and the client’s satisfaction. It is all about trust – so dole out duties and let them get done; only intervene if there is a problem. You may even find that the employee does the job differently but more efficiently.

Recognise good work

We work for a number of reasons: economic (we need money to exist), social (we crave interaction with others) and reward (we like a sense of belonging and public acknowledgement of good work). Any good manager worth their salt will note that good work and ensure that everyone – onsite or, if the practice is big enough, up the chain – knows of the effort that an individual has expended on behalf of the practice. Do this properly and you will put the employee on cloud nine and their sense of well-being will pass on to others who will want some of the same.

Keep it simple

Rules are necessary for the proper operation of any organisation as well as society. However, rules are meant to be interpreted, and broken if necessary, if a higher purpose can be served.

Give employees broad rules of operation but allow them flexibility to find ways of doing things to the benefit of the client and the practice. In other words, don’t bog down staff with minor rules, regulations and detail. It is odds on they will end up (accidentally) breaking them and if nothing else, it is demoralising.


Regardless of whether you are religious, there are tracts within the Bible from which we could all learn. Take Matthew 7:12: “…whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them…”. This means treating others the way you want to be treated.

Quite simply, staff do not react well if they are shouted at, insulted, demeaned, accused or given sarcastic comments. Treat your staff this way and two things are certain – your staff will treat you as hostile, looking to leave at the earliest opportunity, and you could end up in an Employment Tribunal fighting an expensive claim.

So – treat staff with respect and as you would want to be treated. You will see an instant change in attitude.

Be personal

You will recall the opening comment, that “people buy people”, and that it is one of the reasons clients come to your practice. Well, you need to apply the same principle to your staff. As we have seen, they come to work to earn a living, but they also want to be appreciated. One way of doing this is to get to know them personally.

Successful managers are those that take the time to understand their employees and what makes them tick. Learning about their desires, aims and families means that not only will you (hopefully) start to care about them, but it may also give you a clue as to what you can do to retain them. After all, finding replacement staff is costly and time consuming – doubly so if you have to retrain someone to replace the lost knowledge.

You have a staff member who has been working late or hard. It has impacted on their family life. How do you think a handwritten letter to them, acknowledging their efforts, sent to their home along with a voucher for a night out with their partner, would go down? Very well don’t you think? The result is likely to be even better if it is for something they value.

Don’t be stingy

Pay is fundamental – we all have aspirations and bills to pay. But while pay is not critical for all, it is most certainly a de-motivator if staff feel that they are underpaid and overtasked. Competition and hawk-eyed insurance companies can mean thin margins, but you still need to show that you pay fairly and in line with the market. If there is scope, and the work warrants it, you should do what you can to reward employees with increases or bonuses. If you don’t, they will be off when an opportunity arises.

Team build

Get your staff working as a team rather than as individuals vying for attention. Birthdays, weddings, personal events – celebrate them during the day with cakes, a drink or whatever you think is appropriate.

Of course, practices rarely ever stop, but even so, it is about making a point – ideally during the working day rather than in private time – showing that you care while giving staff an opportunity to bond.

Lead from the front

Lastly, a very simple point. Show your staff that whatever they are doing, no matter how well the practice is doing, that you are in the thick of it with them. Lead from the front and take your turn with the worst of the jobs.

Motivating staff isn’t hard. It just needs a caring attitude and some thought. Those who get it right reap the rewards of what they sow while the others fall by the wayside.

Adam Bernstein

Adam Bernstein is a freelance writer and small business owner based in Oxfordshire. Adam writes on all matters of interest to small and medium-sized businesses.

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