How to prevent your staff from leaving

Written by: Adam Bernstein
Published on: 1 Feb 2022

sign post Image: PX Media / Adobe Stock

Image: © PX Media / Adobe Stock

A good number of stories in the press have detailed how in the UK – and globally – a shortage of workers exists.

Whether it’s due to COVID‑19 forcing a realignment of personal horizons, governments becoming more protective about who they let into their country to work, or a general ageing of the working population, the net result is a lack of workers in certain sectors and wage inflation being added to the difficulties that employers face.

For the veterinary sector, the problem is very real. As Vet Times detailed in a September 2021 report1, the RCVS is hoping to persuade some non-practising vets back into the profession to help with a staffing crisis.

Running a tight ship, one that’s well regarded by its revenue base, means having – and keeping – the best staff possible, because they will have years of experience that clients can have both confidence in and trust.

According to a 2014 Oxford Economics report, “The cost of the brain drain”, the average cost of replacing a member of staff can be more than £30,0002. The analysis from Oxford Economics found the greatest expense by far – more than £25,000 – comes from loss of productivity caused by the time it takes (28 weeks on average) for a new recruit to get up to speed.

The remaining costs arise from the logistics of finding a replacement. This includes agency fees, advertising costs, HR and management time, and the possibility of hiring temps before the new role started. No doubt those costs will have risen markedly since the report was risen – no matter, the point is well made.

This means each time a key employee quits, a large chunk of business profitability leaves and will never be seen again. With velvet handcuffs, it is possible to make employees think a business is so attractive that they don’t want to move on.

Unless a business uses the “warm body” approach, hiring someone takes time, effort and expense. Beyond that, an employee’s departure can have an effect on the morale of those who remain and may lead to other resignations if staff feel loyalty to the departed, and it may even mean clients follow the departed employee to his or her new place of work. Customers can be very loyal.

Most employees – those who are not direct stakeholders in the business – will, from time to time, run a mental calculation of the merits of staying or leaving. Of course, each will be using different metrics, but no doubt will be a combination of money, environment, people, culture, perks, career progression, management style and personal factors.

The first task for a business is to make sure it hires correctly in the first place. The fit between employee and job(s), and the business culture must be right. If this isn’t attended to, either the employee will leave or he or she will stay and create problems within the business until he or she is fired. This isn’t good for anyone. Whatever happens, a bad fit is expensive – no matter how it’s looked at.

Just as time is spent in hiring a member of staff, so time should be spent in inducting him or her into the organisation. Whether it’s a few hours or few weeks (depending on the practice size and the role), being properly introduced and shown around, rather than being thrown in the deep end, is the right thing to do. It’s important to not lose sight that induction is where an employee learns about the policies and procedures of the business.

In terms of a velvet handcuff – the retaining mechanism – “no one size fits all” solution exists: people have different motivating factors when running the go/no-go calculation. All an employer can ever hope to do is create several options from which employees can draw solace, comfort and value. Remember – velvet handcuffs are a metaphorical way of locking valued staff into the business.


Let’s face it, unless there is private wealth, we all work for money. But that won’t maintain interest for long, as staff become used to what they receive or find they lose too much in tax. The reality is that pay should be fair and competitive, considering the person and the job he or she is being asked to do. Correctly set pay won’t stop departures, but it could be one reason less to move if it’s good.


Few want to stay static at work as that can become monotonous very quickly. They will invariably want to see some way to rise through the ranks. This might mean moving from assistant to supervisor to manager, or learning new skills – IT, finance, negotiation and so on.

These options should be on the horizon for employees. If they see nowhere to go, then a move elsewhere is inevitable.


Flexible working for most is a necessity. Time for the doctor, childcare, or other personal matters, employees need to be able to deal properly with private matters.

Just a little flexibility – flexitime, better holidays or a job share – can make an employer seem so much more valuable to an employee. And best of all for the practice, if flexibility is offered and managed correctly, it needn’t cost very much at all.


This costs little, but can mean much to many employees; everyone likes to receive praise and recognition – to be shown they count and are noticed.

Many retail firms run “employee of the month-type” schemes, which offer an opportunity for every employee to have a deserved 15 minutes in the limelight.

Practice managers should do the same and be actively looking for opportunities to praise employees for a job well done; it’s surprising the difference acknowledgement can make to staff morale.

It’s especially important to reward positive comments from customers.

Ultimately, at the end of the day, vets need to not only look after the client and his or her pet, but also their staff who are one of their biggest assets.


1. Imrie P (2021). Staff shortages spur hopes to coax non-practising vets back, Vet Times 51(38): 3.

2. Oxford Economics (2014). The cost of brain drain: understanding the financial impact of staff turnover,