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  • Dr. Bill Wagner

What does a healthy employer-employee relationship look like?

Most employers want to be good and effective leaders and most employees want to be happy and successful at their jobs, so why is the relationship between employers and employees so often strained? This week we are going to dive into the dynamic between employer and employee and how it can be set up for success.

A good employer-employee relationship is friendly and professional, rooted in mutual respect

The relationship between an employee and their direct supervisor is the one that is most impactful in employee job satisfaction, regardless of what levels of organization exist above and below that relationship. These direct report connections are crucial, so great employers make sure to get them right. It doesn’t matter how good your overall organizational strategy is if you’re not choosing the right managers, supervisors, and directors to communicate and implement that strategy.

Respect is a two-way street and can only be earned by an employer or an employee through consistent and honest communication where employees and employers treat each other as peers and shareholders of a mutual goal.

A good employer-employee relationship has an equitable transactional foundation

A successful professional relationship needs to lift everyone involved up when it succeeds. An employer-employee relationship can only be successful when there is alignment on the amount and type of tangible benefits that both parties receive, whether they’re financial, professional, personal, or educational.

“Work family” messaging may be well-intentioned, but is harmful

Unless you’re related to your coworkers, your coworkers are not your family. Your family is your family, and chances are you’re willing to make sacrifices for your family that you shouldn't make for your employer. On the surface the idea of an employer pitching the idea of their team being “like a family” seems nice, but in practice it ends up being subverted as a means for employers to shift the power dynamic in their favor by leveraging the sentiment of familial sacrifice to get employees to stretch beyond expected and compensated performance. Rarely is this expectation of sacrifice equally reciprocated by employers who claim to have a “work family” environment. Work teams are most effective when everyone likes each other and treats each other with kindness and respect, and that’s something that can be celebrated without using the concept of “family” in a (regardless of intent) manipulative manner.

Alignment of incentives is key

Whether it is profit sharing, equity, production-based pay, or simply a promise to increase base pay and/or benefits if the practice performs better financially, aligning incentives between employees and employer is a surefire way to reduce friction and improve engagement. Put simply, people work harder when they can see a direct relationship between their work and their rewards.

Financial incentives are one of the easiest forms of alignment, but rarely foster a strong employee-employer bond by themselves. Job satisfaction is about much more than just the size of the paycheck. Incentives are also aligned by ensuring employees are listened to, empowered to make positive change in their workplace and develop ideas and initiatives, have opportunities to advance their skills and professional credentials, and above all else are respected.

Employers instinctively try to shift power in their favor, but a balanced power dynamic is much better

Employers hold more of the cards at the start of the employer-employee relationship, and most will try to leverage that advantage even further. It might seem tempting to press this advantage, but like most forms of greed this is self-destructive. Setting a fair and equal playing field in the relationship between employee and employer is important for building long term relationships. Turnover is expensive and All Star workers are the lifeblood of successful businesses. High performing workers are always going to be in demand no matter what, but especially so in a competitive job market. Those in-demand workers are going to hold their employers accountable as partners. If you’re not willing to treat them fairly and act in good faith, they will find an employer who will.

Clear expectations set the stage for success

The alternate title for this section is “a detailed job description and a great employee handbook are worth their weight in gold”. There is nothing that frustrates the relationship between employee and employer faster than a disconnect on expectations. Most employees want to be good at their jobs and most employers want to be good employers, and failures more often occur due to unclear, poorly communicated, or unrealistic expectations rather than intentional fault or true incompetence. The employer carries most of the responsibility for communicating expectations to their employees, but it is also important for them to listen to, understand, and strive to achieve the expectations of their employees in return. Every aspect of this relationship needs to be a two-way street!

Great employers are servant leaders who think about their businesses from the ground up rather than the top down

The frontline veterinary healthcare workers are the ones who make the actual magic happen of delivering care to patients, preventing and treating illnesses, and driving the success of veterinary hospitals. Everything above those frontline workers, whether it is leaders and managers of an independently owned hospital or the entire corporate team for a veterinary group, exists to serve and empower those workers.

At AVP our mission is simple: We advance the lives of pets, pet parents, and veterinary healthcare workers together. We can’t be successful at those first two points unless we’re successful at the third. To the amazing teams at our partner practices: Thank you for all that you do!

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