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Rethink what you reward

26 Apr 2021 | Kate Higgins


Most of us spend more waking hours at work than at home, so it really is crucial that we feel appreciated when we’re there. In this blog, BVA’s North West regional representative Kate Higgins shares her thoughts reward and recognition based on her experience in independent practice.

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There is no doubt that feeling valued by others makes us feel good. Most of us spend more waking hours at work than at home, so it really is crucial that we feel appreciated when we’re there. Rewarding and recognising team members improves morale, enhances loyalty to the business, increases staff retention and contributes to a supportive work culture.

Perk-based reward schemes

Bigger companies, veterinary corporates included, are good at offering blanket reward schemes for their employees including a range of perks and sometimes private healthcare. There are now several companies also making these types of perks schemes more accessible for smaller businesses too.  But I think we need to look at reward and recognition differently – there is so much more to feeling valued!

These blanket schemes are basically perks that everyone gets just for turning up to work somewhere. They may motivate someone to choose to come and work for your business vs a competitor, but do they keep employees motivated in the longer term? I’m not so sure. They may encourage them to stay working somewhere without necessarily having any positive impact on team or business performance day to day. I’m not saying we should ignore these schemes, but I think it’s also important that rewards and recognition are specific to the achievements of an individual or team  - and they don’t have to be monetary!

Goal-oriented rewards

One way some practices provide performance based rewards is through bonus schemes, usually related to reaching or exceeding a certain level of turnover. This performance-related pay can work well for very simple processes and workflows. Unfortunately, these schemes often don’t work so well in something as nuanced as veterinary medicine where we juggle taking care of our patients with managing our clients’ expectations, sometimes within a specific budget. Does this sort of scheme drive the right behaviours?

I once worked at a practice with this type of bonus scheme. Whilst it encouraged us to make sure everything was priced properly and that we didn’t miss charges, at times it also motivated people to make different drug choices based on cost. At its worst it led to divisions in the vet team when people made special effort to make sure certain procedures were booked on their theatre days, or that managed their time so they were free at the right time to start the cruciate op rather than the bitch spay. Are these the behaviours of a supportive and cohesive Veterinary team? I doubt it.

I much prefer rewards linked to goals the team sets themselves, which actually impact on patient health and client satisfaction, in line with our business’ vision and values. This pulls the team together since they are all working towards a common goal. Continuous supportive feedback on any goal is equally important.  Regular meetings to assess and recognise achievements works really well for keeping team members motivated and means you can tailor these individually. Knowing that their leaders will take the time to sit down and goal set with their teams can be rewarding in itself and shows that value is put in individuals needs and aspirations.

Celebrating successes

Unstructured, ad hoc feedback is also a great motivator. Take the time to celebrate unexpected successes such as a record turnover month or hitting a milestone of pet health scheme membership, I guarantee your team will feel all the better for it.

An advantage we have working in small teams is being able to see the little things that make a difference and to develop a culture where recognition and thanks takes place between team members. As a leader you can foster and model the right behaviours, but it works best when all team members contribute to a good workplace culture of recognition. I’ve seen some great examples of this where teams have come up with their own awards with medals or sashes for the person who swoops in to hit the difficult vein or makes the best cup of tea!

When thanking a colleague, your thanks should be framed specifically to the individual, their behaviour and why it was helpful. Showing appreciation for the nurse triaging a patient to help you manage your time better or the receptionist who bent over backwards to help the difficult client so that no one else’s day was impacted. In our team, this praise and thanks is equally valuable whether it comes from each other or from “the bosses”.  

It’s not just about recognising successes either, it’s equally important that we take time to recognise when things have been difficult, either for an individual or the team as whole. Most of us have struggled at some point, especially over the past 12 months, but just knowing that somebody else sees that you’re finding it tough or offers a friendly ear let’s you know you’re being seen and acknowledged.

Create a culture of mutual recognition

In my experience, the best way to a happy, motivated team comes from fostering a culture where mutual recognition and thanks takes place every day. This needs input from everyone and doesn’t happen overnight. It’s as much the responsibility of each of us as individuals as it is the leaders’. Looking out for the good, kind things other people do also helps foster feelings of gratitude in ourselves, which makes us feel better too!

So, go download the BVA good workplaces resources, come up with some ideas for making this work in your team, and then go find someone to say “THANK YOU” to today!


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