Forging Bonds in an Emotional Industry Through Peer Recognition


Veterinary medicine is more of a calling than a career. One minute, you’re helping a healthy puppy or kitten with an annual checkup. The next, you’re playing a crucial part in a life-or-death emergency that may be the worst day of a pet owner’s life. Veterinary medicine is a great profession, but the stress of the job can take its toll on you. Working alongside peers who feel the same purpose, makes all the difference.

I’m speaking from personal experience.

I started my career in veterinary medicine at a specialty emergency hospital, where I worked with more than 200 team members. I fell in love with all of it, the environment and the emotion. I left and went to grad school to study health administration, but human healthcare wasn’t all I thought it would be, so I returned to veterinary medicine. I started out in the veterinary field because I loved animals, but I returned because of the people. 

Today, I am the Human Resources Manager at Pender Veterinary Centre. We’re not your average vet clinic—we’re a multi-department general practice and 24/7 emergency veterinary center with onsite pharmacy, labs, surgery, and exotics. We serve thousands of animals in four locations across Northern Virginia. We're lucky enough to employ more than 150 employees across several unique departments. Pender employees have diverse backgrounds and are able to train throughout multiple departments, continuing their journey in the field.

Facilities that deal with a lot of burnout need help to nurture their workplace culture or optimize employee engagement.

Pender is a great place to work, but it’s not immune to the compassion fatigue that's common in our industry. Vet clinics of all sizes deal with a lot of burnout, which is why many facilities need help nurturing their workplace cultures or optimizing employee engagement. Employee retention rates at vet clinics are among the lowest in the medical field, with roughly 23% of the workforce turning over every year. 

Putting my HR hat on, it’s part of my job to look at retention and turnover rates and figure out why they look the way they do. But from a personal standpoint, it’s hard to see so many good people leave our practice. We want to improve that, and we're constantly trying to add to our employment package to retain our people over time. When I joined Pender in 2019, the systems we had in place just weren’t enough.

Retention Goes Hand in Hand with Teamwork

Pender’s previous approach to recognition and rewards was piecemeal and top-down. For example, whenever a Pender employee was mentioned by name in an online review, we'd add a $50 bonus to that person's next paycheck. We still do this, and while it was a nice gesture, we can't solely rely on our customers to do the work of recognition.

At that time, we were also using Slack to share company-wide information. During COVID-19, many of our employees used that platform to support and encourage one another and recognize their peers for a job well done. These messages were wonderful to see and helped motivate everyone during the worst of the pandemic, but it wasn’t a great system, either. Recognition messages started crowding our official communication channel, which was intended for emergencies or hospital communications.

We only had short-term access to these messages anyway. All past messages would disappear after a few months, meaning we couldn’t use any of the in-app data to inform our long-term reviews and rewards. To get around the expiration date on messages, I would take a screenshot of positive shoutouts, print them out, and manually place them in an employee’s file. We needed a better way to track praise and performance.

Our leadership team wanted a dedicated platform that would help us better manage employee recognition and allow us to pull data on individuals and track their performance through analytics. It didn’t take long for Bonusly to come into the conversation.

A Dedicated Home for People to Engage

One of the things we liked most about Bonusly was the ability to make rewards meaningful. Our employees could choose to make a charitable donation or redeem their points for swag or other desired items, making every interaction feel much more significant. Plus, Bonusly checked all our boxes around analytics. We could even send out surveys to our team; a feature we utilize often to make decisions with our team in mind.

The Pender team didn’t look at another platform after they looked at Bonusly. Truthfully, there was no need. Bonusly was exactly what we needed it to be. Even the Bonusly launch process was seamless and straightforward. I’d love to tell you a harrowing tale about the struggles of implementing something new, but our team members took to it immediately. And they didn’t just like it; they loved it.

Since the spring launch of Bonusly in 2021, Pender has maintained a monthly engagement rate above 80%. In December 2022, it was around 89%. And apart from deciding the number of points everyone can give away each month, our employee use is pretty unstructured and organic. We use hashtags like #teamwork and #leadership in Bonusly to call out individual talents and make it easy for everyone to spread love to those around them. People log in practically every day, offer interdepartmental shoutouts, and give out their monthly points without any intervention from managers—which is precisely how it’s supposed to be.

As great as Bonusly is, we honestly didn’t expect to see engagement as high as it is. Working at a vet clinic isn’t like a desk job, where it’s easy for people to log into the platform on their desktop or laptop as they’re doing other things. Our people don’t sit still, but they do have their phones with them throughout the day. I love how Pender employees regularly use the Bonusly app on the go, capturing small but significant moments throughout their day that may be forgotten otherwise.

For instance, a few months ago, we purchased a new CT machine. One of our techs had to scan an injured tortoise but they weren't very familiar with how to use the new machine. Enter our story’s hero: a team member who didn’t work in exotics but knew how to use a CT. Unprompted, this team member stepped up and taught the other tech how to work the machine effectively. Together, they got successful images of the tortoise, and the tech offered a shoutout to their colleague on Bonusly. Interactions like these raise the bar for our team’s interpersonal relationships, connections, and skills.

Increased Visibility Uncovers Our Superstars and Boosts Retention

It would be nice if our managers could be on the floor all the time, catching all the positive interactions between our team members, but that’s just not real life (or practical, for that matter). Bonusly increases our visibility into all areas of the clinic. We can pull all sorts of data from Bonusly—who’s recognizing the most people, who’s receiving the most recognition, etc.—to help our leadership team identify our superstars and recognize traits in people that might have been latent otherwise. We can help determine who is fully invested in Pender, offer them new opportunities for advancement, and promote great talent internally.

Increased visibility into employee actions can help leadership teams identify superstars and recognize unique traits in people that might have been latent otherwise.

In 2022, Pender Veterinary Centre experienced its highest-ever retention rate. While we can’t attribute it all to Bonusly, I believe that overall engagement is connected to our retention. High engagement and connection to one another are probably the biggest reasons people stick around.

Printing out screenshots never felt like team building, but seeing people recognize each other publicly through Bonusly does. A team member is now more than just a coworker, and with Bonusly, they can be closer than ever before.

Bonusly grants our employees a voice to share all the moments they go through, from shoutouts and struggles to everything in between. It’s powerful to have a place to share those sentiments, especially without any expectations or top-down pressure. People genuinely feel like they’re appreciated by their team. Plus, it can provide a great opportunity for leadership teams to shape policies that improve our team members' well-being.

A Great Addition to Our Package

Bonusly helped us create a well-rounded employee recognition system that forges bonds, creates memories, and builds trust. It’s a place where people can share moments in a very emotional environment and create meaningful connections with other employees starting on day one. 

Maybe that’s the power of Bonusly: a platform to enhance the human connection I’ve come to love so much about the pet care industry. Bonusly helps us ensure that our employees feel valued, and I’m confident it can help improve the culture of vet clinics of any size across the country.