Google, Facebook and Salesforce are regularly listed as the best places to work, making people think you need to work for a large organisation to be happy. Sarah Norris explores what you can do to give your small vet practice an enviable workplace culture.
It’s called a “pre-cation”—a holiday you take before you start a new job. It’s just one of the perks new employees are offered by Australian software company Atlassian, the Best Place to Work, as nominated by BRW this year. At file-sharing firm Dropbox, the sweeteners are made-to-order stir-fry bars and free yoga classes, while at Google it’s on-site medical services, health care coverage and legal representation.
But according to the managing director of Great Place to Work, Zrinka Lovrencic—the company that compiles the BRW list—incentives such as these may make news headlines and serve as an initial enticement, but they aren’t the real reason people are happy at work. “If you don’t like your manager, you’re not getting feedback and don’t know what you’re meant to do on a day-to-day basis, the fact there’s free food and a laundry service isn’t going to make you stay,” says Lovrencic. “It might make you stay for an extra month or two because it’s quirky and a benefit, but then you’ll remember you hate your boss, you’ve got no direction and get no feedback. And the free food’s not even that good anyway.”
What does make people want to say, says Lovrencic, is having pride for where they work, enjoying the company of colleagues and that they trust upper management. “But getting those in place is difficult, and it’s why companies often fail in achieving it,” she says.
It is, however, not impossible. “You have to create an aligned workforce in order for staff to be engaged,” says Lovrencic. “That means making sure everyone understands what the business does, that they understand why the company exists, what the goals are that need to be, and what role they play as an individual in achieving those.” This environment and culture must be driven by the person at the top, which in the case of a veterinary practice is the vet owner or practice manager. “You can’t create engagement in the workplace from the bottom up,” says Lovrencic.
“They are happy to complain but very reluctant to go down the road of correcting their business.” —Diederik Gelderman, Australian Veterinary Business Association
While this seems like common sense, it’s not often what happens. According to Gallop, which delivers analytics and advice to help leaders and organisations solve problems, 60 per cent of Australians are disengaged in the workplace. “If you stop anyone on the street and ask them what their company is trying to achieve and how they play a role in achieving that, most will say, ‘I don’t know’. But at the end of the day, people want a sense of purpose and achievement,” says Lovrencic.
The fashion industry has recently cottoned on to the importance of keeping staff happy and engaged, with companies such as Burberry employing a CPO—chief people officer. These CPOs are responsible for staff, the company’s culture and for creating a working environment in which employees can thrive. Of course, engaging and retaining staff is at the centre of appointments such as these, with the chief human resources officer at professional networking site LinkedIn, Pat Wadors, saying there’s a lot at stake for businesses considering 80 per cent of a company’s operating expenses are talent-related.
For many small businesses, work culture is often not seen important, and according to business coach and the president of the Australian Veterinary Business Association’s Diederik Gelderman, it’s more often than not ignored by veterinary practice owners. In fact, ask him to describe the business side of the vet industry, he doesn’t mince his words. “I’ll give you one word: dysfunctional. Most vet practice owners treat their business as a ‘mum-and-pop’ store and then they complain they have no money, no lifestyle and can’t see the kids grow up. They are happy to complain but very reluctant to go down the road of correcting their business or turning it into a real business,” says Gelderman.
“Look at books on the subject and the number one thing that drives a business is a leader, and no vet gets leadership training at uni. Vets at uni, in my opinion, are trained to be combative. We’re not taught to be collaborative, nor do we have business or management skills. When you have a great leader the business does well. Employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers,” says Gelderman.
Lovrencic says it’s not an issue only associated with the vet industry, it’s a problem across every industry. “Companies assume that once people become managers, they will magically have these management skills. It’s not the case. People need to be taught how to communicate effectively, what has to be communicated to lead their team and motivate them, and how to look out for performance issues. I suggest enrolling in a management and communication course—it will greatly help.”