IT might cost a little more, but keeping the staff happy has not reduced the profitability of Ranford Veterinary Hospital, a small business operating in one of the most competitive industries in Western Australia.
The effect has been quite the reverse.
The eight-year-old clinic has managed to perform solidly in financial terms, meeting industry benchmarks for earnings performance.
That is quite an achievement in Perth, which has about four times the average number of vets per capita compared with the developed world and twice the national average.
RVH partner David Marshall said creating a relaxed place to work was the key to the financial success of the clinic.
“Veterinary is a very personality driven business,” Mr Marshall said.
“That might sound funny because you think you are dealing with animals, but you are really dealing with people, and they are people who are often distressed.
“People might not just have a sick animal, they also might be dealing with the cost of looking after it.”
Mr Marshall said RVH focused on staff at all levels, from strategies to get the best people who will fit in with the current workforce (about 12, including some part-timers) to making sure the existing staff were enjoying their work life.
And it shows.
In the ‘Best Employers in Western Australia’ survey undertaken by WA Business News and Market Equity, the clinic was the highest ranked performer by employees scores regarding their overall job satisfaction and how they felt the firm performed as an employer.
It averaged 4.75 out of five (95 per cent) for these two critical findings, having asked staff to enter the competition after being prompted by a representative from supplier CSL.
In the first instance, Mr Marshall said a lot of time was spent finding the right staff – something that was helped by the big numbers of veterinary students looking for work while they studied.
Some of these came through the work experience placements RVH took from TAFE and a private college.
This allowed the clinic to see how people performed and ensured new staff were well prepared for work at the clinic if they became permanent employees.
Before making an appointment, RVH’s existing staff members were asked about prospective employees – ensuring the workplace was not disrupted by people who did not fit in.
“This a good way of getting a good feel for staff,” Mr Marshall said.
And it’s not just the qualified veterinary professionals who are carefully selected.
“We picked our receptionist because she is bright and happy and a local so she knows a lot of faces,” he said.
Then there are the general working conditions.
Mr Marshall said even though financial rewards were not a major influence in the veterinary industry, RVH paid significantly above the award. This was reflected in higher-than-industry benchmark costs for the practice, he said, but also reflected higher-than-standard revenue.
Mr Marshall said employees were paid extra if they were held up after hours or had to attend staff meetings outside their normal hours.
An appointments system has been instituted to keep the workplace relaxed, which had significant benefits for clients and staff.
“(We) extended this to 20-minute units which gives everyone time to properly examine an animal,” he said.
Also, the high use of part-time staff allows most full-time employees, notably veterinary nurses, the luxury of free weekends.
In the workplace, staff members are consulted on anything that might affect them, even the colour of the walls.
With two practising partners, disputes or conflicts are dealt with and resolved quickly, Mr Marshall said.
Family and social activities are also considered important.
Twice a year the business holds a big function to get staff and their families together.
Last Christmas the firm hired chalets at a venue outside Perth and conducted a big barbeque celebration – a decision made by the staff.
“It probably costs no more than going out to a restaurant and the family comes along and it is what they wanted to do,” Mr Marshall said.
All this stacks up financially because an outside investor is involved with the business, which turns over about $1.2 million a year and returns 20 per cent a year earnings before interest and tax.
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