Embracing the benefits of a happy workforce

HRD speaks to VetPartners' chief people officer, Julie Harris, to discuss the intrinsic link between job satisfaction and organisational performance

Embracing the benefits of a happy workforce

Julie Harris, CPO at VetPartners Australia and New Zealand, strongly advocates for an employee-centric culture. She is deeply passionate about the development of the people at VetPartners and believes it is key to meeting organisational goals. 

VetPartners is a community of over 125 practices. It provides a support network to clinics so that they can continue to do what’s important to them – practice medicine.

“When our people are engaged, happy and empowered, they will instinctively do a better job,” explains Harris, a finalist for the 2019 Randstad Award for Australian HR Director of the Year. “Having as few barriers as possible in front of employees can determine the impact and culture of the organisation.”

This mindset is very much linked to the number one challenge Harris believes HR professionals have faced in 2019; that is, balancing the needs of the changing workforce with the needs of the business.  

“Our people are looking for flexible working conditions, they’re looking for extra annual leave,” she says. “They’re looking for work from home arrangements, great engaging workspaces reflective of technological advancement.”

That pressure, she explains, is hitting HR professionals to provide new ideas on how they can manage the workforce; what processes and initiatives can be put in place to satisfy them while simultaneously hitting sales and revenue targets through happy customers.

People-related challenges don’t end here
However, Harris notes that VetPartners’ biggest challenge, has been recruitment and retention. This, she says, has put pressure on them as a support office to figure out how they can help clinics recruit and retain people, improve their culture, and improve their business. This has been a critical issue within the veterinary industry as a whole: the number of veterinarians exiting the market versus the number of those coming through is much higher. 

VetPartners has implemented certain protocols to address this issue through both short-term and long-term approaches. 

“The recruitment team has put in place several strategies to find veterinarians for us,” Harris explains. “They’re looking at new grad programs; they’re looking for vets overseas in London and South Africa. We’ve also got some wellness programs in place to try and help our veterinarians cope with this really stressful environment.”  

Harris explains that the other way working the company is working is to collaborate with veterinarian bodies (such as Australian Veterinary Association) and universities to start conversations on why veterinarians are leaving the industry in the first place.

Silver linings 
Despite the challenges, Harris takes considerable pride in the work she’s done since joining the business. When she started as director of learning and development in 2017, there weren’t a lot of processes and structures in place – and the ones that were present had become obsolete. This needed to change.

“We’d gone from a founding team of 10 people that started VetPartners and support office to 82 people, and ran a real risk of losing who we were,” she says. “So, I was really proud to implement the values and servant leadership into our support office and help implement new processes.” 

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