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  • Josh Vaisman

Your Employee Handbook is Flawed - It Can Be Great



You've spent a lot of time and energy creating and honing your employee handbook.


From an explicit attendance policy to rules around your "Gossip Free Work Place" you are proud of the final product. And you should be. It takes a ton of work to build and implement a solid handbook.


Now it's time to train the team. You set aside a full all-staff meeting to walk through all the policies, procedures, and rules. New employees get a personal, one-on-one guided adventure through each page as part of your on-boarding process.


Everyone knows the rules. There should be no surprises when you sit down with someone for a corrective-action conversation.


Handbooks can be vital tools for a functioning veterinary hospital.


And most of them are flawed.


What Most Employee Handbooks Accomplish


What are some of things we commonly see in veterinary employee handbooks? Tell me if any of these sound familiar:

  • You are expected to work your scheduled shift. Missed shifts, for any reason, including illness, count as 1 point. At 5 points in any 12 month period you will receive a verbal warning. At 7 points in any 12 month period you will receive a written warning. At 8 points in any 12 month period you will be terminated.

  • Gossip will not be tolerated. Any incidence of gossip will be subject to our standard disciplinary action.

  • Visible tattoos above the neck are not allowed.

  • Vacation requests must be submitted to management at least 4 weeks in advance and approval is subject to management discretion.

I have seen (or even used!) all of the above examples in veterinary hospital employee manuals. Of course, this is just a sample and handbooks do cover myriad subjects, many of which are dictated by legal requirements.


That said, the majority of employee handbooks tend to accomplish at least one thing very well: they clearly lay out what employees CANNOT do at work.


When we focus our attention almost exclusively on limitations - what is not allowed, what will get us in trouble, what the borders and constraints are for our role or responsibilities - we inadvertently create a culture of avoidance.


As a result, and often just below conscious thought, our team develops a mindset that approaches almost every action by asking, "am I actually allowed to do this?"


We seek to avoid trouble rather than approach progress.


Safely Approaching Potential


An avoidance mindset contributes to anxiety and fear.


A system of rules built primarily on what people should NOT do, NOT say, and how they should NOT behave might keep folks "in line". It also diminishes a critical ingredient to high-performing teams; psychological safety.


To enable an environment in which veterinary professionals reach toward their greatest potential and thrive, as individuals and teams, we need to shift our culture from avoidance to approach.


One simple way to do this is by building a "I/You/We Can..." list.


When people feel safe to approach instead of avoid, they perform better - substantially better.


Here's one way to get started -

  1. Imagine your team functioning at their best. What will they be doing? Saying? Thinking?

  2. Write down 5-6 examples of what you're thinking. Be sure to think of them as "approach" instead of "avoid". For example, don't write, "They won't be gossiping." Rather, write something like, "They will be communicating openly." Or, instead of "They won't be mean," it might be, "They will be kind to each other."

  3. Frame each of your examples as "I/You/We Can..." or "It is OK to...." For example, "communicating openly" might be framed as, "We can all ask lots of questions", or, "It is OK to ask why or why not"

  4. Share this with your team and get their input. Be sure to give them the opportunity to add things to the list they feel will improve their feeling of safety in approaching their potential as a team.

That's it!


Imagine paving a path to where your team can go. Now that's something to be proud of.


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