It comes as no secret that I recently changed jobs. After 15 years with my hospital team in Massachusetts, 8 of those as a BluePearl Veterinary Partners employee, I decided a change was needed. Of course, there’s always speculation as to why any employee would leave. But I was not prepared for the number of individuals who reached out to me personally asking “what happened” and “why did I leave?” Why did Amy Newfield leave BluePearl after being there for so long?
The reality is when an employee chooses to leave a position there are two parties involved: the employee and the employer. So, what causes someone to find another job? Why do they suddenly become discontent or demotivated? Why does an employee decide to start looking elsewhere?
Don’t lose an employee because of a fixable problem.
When I’ve managed teams, I’ve given myself one goal. Don’t lose an employee because of a fixable problem. I stand by that statement. No company, veterinary hospital or other, should want to lose an employee if the issue that was causing them to leave was fixable. While that statement makes it seem like we should never be losing employees, the reality is there are many unfixable issues in any hospital.
What do I mean by fixable versus unfixable issues? Leaders have a lot in their control within the hospital or organization, but not everything. Depending on the individual leader, say the medical director as an example, they may have less in their control than the hospital administrator. The medical director cannot change the benefits, salary, or the paid time off policy for those they manage. Instead that would be the responsibility of the hospital administrator, or in some larger companies, the owner, CEO or HR Manager. It’s rare that leaders have control over everything, and employees have to recognize that. There are only so many issues that most leaders can actually fix.
In my podcast “Sustainability in the Veterinary Profession” (click to listen) I wrote about the three things that all employers need to get right in order for employees to stay in veterinary medicine as a life-long career. The three key ingredients are: Salary, Benefits & Good Culture.
Here’s the good news. Every leader and every employee have direct influence over the last of the key ingredients, Good Culture. Employees have the responsibility to come to work happy, leave the drama at the door, be kind to each other and create a good work environment for the team. Employers have the responsibility to help those on the team that may be struggling with following through on their end of the promise. Both parties have an equal opportunity to fix, alter or destroy the good culture ingredient. Despite a leader’s best attempts, members of the team may hijack the culture and ruin it. And, despite the team wanting to be happy, any leader can quickly destroy the team’s culture in a relatively short time.
The good culture ingredient is the most important ingredient of the three items. If you verbally assault your employee, devalue them, and make them feel useless in their job, they will leave even if you pay them a great salary. That said, the importance of salary and benefits cannot be understated. Those two are the ingredients that keep the employee at your hospital. They set them up for success so that culture can be great.
All hospitals have periods of time where things get tough. The poop hits the fan and stress is ever present. The culture will start to take a hit. In those moments, the salary and benefits better be great because they will be the ingredients to keep your employees there. The team is “willing to suffer through the hard times” because the salary is good, so they feel like they are being compensated well enough to justify the “hard times.” A good leadership team will get the team through the tough time, get the culture back on track and the team will be even more unified than before. However, when the culture suffers if salary is dismal and benefits lacking, team members will start leaving.
Ask yourself, "What do I have the ability to fix?"
As a leader you may not have influence over salary and benefits. This makes it hard because, despite your best efforts, you cannot fix those problems. You see the culture wavering. You see the exhaustion. You are working on trying to improve the culture, but you need to show them you appreciate their hard work with a salary that matches their efforts, and you can’t change their salary.
Unfortunately, for many leaders you can’t fix these two issues. The salary and benefits issue lies in the hands of those in other leadership roles. Regardless of the role, what everyone has the ability to do in this situation is advocate. Show data to explain why salary should be improved. Show how much what you are asking for an increase for the team will affect the overall payroll budget. Come prepared to advocate with all the information you can find. In the end, for most leaders, if you have advocated and exhausted all options then you are left accepting that these issues are not ones you can fix.
I will also make this statement. Sometimes salary and benefits cannot be fixed because they are already the best they can be for the current situation. I worked through the 2008 recession. Veterinary hospitals lost a lot of money and some closed. Increasing salaries was not possible because hospitals were trying to keep doors open. Employees need to recognize that all hospital budgets are different, their earnings vary widely, and that is why one hospital salaries may vary widely from another. That said, if you can fix it…do it.
While the three ingredients for sustainability of the entire profession are salary, benefits, and culture there is one other key ingredient to keeping employees, their career happiness. You can get all three sustainability ingredients right in your hospital, but how happy that individual is in their career is up to them. As a leader all we can do is set the perfect stage for them to be successful. But, despite our best efforts, some employees are going to look beyond the perfect stage and eventually walk off of it to see what else there is.
When I coach veterinary professionals about their careers, I ask them the following:
1) Why Are You Thinking of a New Job or Questioning the One you Have?
2) Can the Issues in Your Current Job be Fixed so You are Happy?
3) What Are Your Passions?
For many they identify toxic culture, subpar pay, or a lack of a work-life balance. Many of the issues listed fall into the fixable category. In fact, every one of those issues are fixable by someone in the hospital. The leader in the hospital can fix the work-life balance issue by ensuring breaks have the ability to be taken, scheduling is appropriate, and the culture is good. The employee also has the ability to fix the work-life balance issue by setting boundaries and advocating for themselves. These are all fixable issues. The first two questions go hand and hand. Usually, an employee tells me about a fixable problem and states that yes, someone in the hospital could fix it. It may not be their direct manager, but someone has the ability to fix it.
Sometimes, people lose their passion and they want to try something new.
The third question is the hardest one. This has to do with career happiness. Even in hospitals that perfected the sustainability ingredients, where unicorns and rainbows are abundant, there will be an employee who looks for another job. They lost their passion for what they are currently doing. Perhaps they stumbled upon something else that has them excited or perhaps they are bored and feel like their brain is stagnant. Whatever it is, their passion is no longer for the job they are currently in.
For employers and leaders, this is a tough one to realize. Sometimes, people lose their passion, and they want to try something new. We may have set the perfect stage, but it’s not perfect to that person. This person wants something we can’t offer them. We have an unfixable problem.
Leaders try all the time to fix the issue of career unhappiness and sometimes it works. They move someone who is expressing boredom into a manager role. This challenges the individual, reinvigorates them because they get to learn a new skill set and gets their passion jumpstarted. Some leaders may move an individual to a different department for that same reason. New skills, new team, and new passion.
Unfortunately, for many other employees, this is not a fixable problem by the hospital. That employee needs a change of scenery and new people to engage with. Employees leave because they need a challenge in their career that you cannot offer them. You cannot fix their problem. In those cases, it’s okay to say goodbye.
As an employer or manager, the best thing to do is to support the employee in their decision to leave. You have done your due diligence in ensuring it wasn’t an issue that could be rectified. Allow the employee the ability to finish out their role to the date of employment they stated would be their last. Cutting the time short doesn't allow for a smooth transition for the rest of the team.
So why did I leave BluePearl? What’s the skinny, the gossip, the real story? Like so many employees who seek to find another job, it’s complex. It’s usually never one answer. It’s never just salary or just benefits. The answer lies in a variety of the reasons just like for any employee that has ever left any company, some fixable and some not.
I took a position with Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG) as the Director of Nursing Leadership. What I can tell you is my passion has been jump-started. I am simultaneously excited and nervous about my new position. New people, new role, new things to do and see. My brain is working overtime and I love it. I am focused on trying to create a more sustainable profession for all veterinary professionals by influencing and improving things that are within my control. My career happiness is at an all-time high right now and I’m soaking in every moment. In this new role, I am on a mission to change the world.