How to conduct engagement surveys to reduce unwanted turnover (Part 1 of 2)

by By Ben Spinks

11 min read

I’d like to revisit a topic I touched on in my March 22nd post — the high cost of staff turnover. In this post, I explained that replacing staff members is an expensive and labor-intensive proposition that can cost anywhere between 16% and 21% of a given team member’s annual wage.1

With that in mind, I explained how stay interviews can help reduce staff turnover. Today, I’d like to share another strategy that can help reduce turnover:

Engagement surveys.

[bctt tweet=”Engagement surveys can give you valuable insight into how your employees feel about your practice”] and to what degree they are invested in your success. What follows are some suggestions on how to conduct an effective survey.
Filling out a survey at your veterinary practice

8 best practices to support the success of your engagement survey

    1. Allow anonymous participation through survey platforms.

      By doing so, you’re far more likely to receive candid feedback. If you tell your team that their comments will be anonymous (ideally not even you will know who’s survey is whose), then you better be serious about it. Nothing will destroy participation in future engagement surveys faster than your team finding out that their comments were not really anonymous. This is a critical integrity issue. Your best bet is to use a platform like SurveyMonkey to manage survey distribution and ensure that everyone’s feedback remains anonymous. Another option would be to outsource the task to a third party, e.g. an industry consultant or a company like Gallup who can administer the survey on your behalf.

    2. Whenever possible, add questions identifying veterinary roles and practice departments.

      This will ensure that you can “slice and dice” your survey results to get a clearer picture of where areas of opportunity are located. That said, if your team isn’t very big, you need to be careful that this slicing and dicing doesn’t inadvertently identify authorship.

    3. From survey to survey, consistently ask your veterinary staff the same core questions.

      This will allow you to measure how your team’s morale and engagement is trending over time. You can always add a few extra questions at the end that relate to targeted topics or current events.

      Team members of your practice filling out a survey

    4. Add comment fields to scale-based (non-open-ended) engagement survey questions.

      This will give your team members an opportunity to provide additional context about their ratings when they feel that would be helpful, for example:

      “While I do feel like I receive a lot of praise from my coworkers, I don’t feel like I ever hear it from my team leaders or the practice owners.”
    5. Make sure you’re emotionally and mentally prepared when you sit down to review the results — you may have to read some tough feedback.

      In my experience, every engagement survey has outliers.

      • Not everyone at your practice is happy.
      • Some of your employees may actively be looking for employment elsewhere.
      • Some of them will write open-ended comments that are difficult to accept.
      • While some of their ratings and comments may be valid, others may be driven by circumstances completely beyond your control, e.g. personal issues outside of the practice.

      Don’t fall into the trap of fixating on the outliers. While it can be disheartening and shocking to learn that some anonymous person on your team dreads coming to work every day and is actively looking for another job, don’t invest a bunch of time and energy trying to figure out who it is. Instead, take their feedback into account, carefully look for opportunities to improve your practice, and then move on.

    6. Let your veterinary team know that an engagement survey will be forthcoming.

      Make an announcement at a team meeting or through a separate email. Go over what kinds of questions you’ll be asking and how feedback will be used. Answer any questions. Get them as comfortable as possible with the idea.

    7. Sincerely thank your practice staff for participating — even if you had to read some tough feedback.

      Make of point of saying how much you appreciated their candidness and how you’ll be using their feedback to actively make improvements at the practice. Whenever possible, find quick wins and make them part of your thank-you messaging. For example:

      “There were a lot of really good ideas brought up in the survey — so many, in fact, that it will take us a few weeks to process everything. One thing that caught my eye, though, is that several people mentioned that we didn’t have enough brooms because several broke this year. What an easy-to-fix problem! More brooms are on the way!”

      As an aside, I generally anticipate a 65-90% participation rate under most circumstances. I’ve found that smaller teams often have higher participation rates than larger teams.

Simple faces ranging from dissatisfied to happy

    1. Consider sharing a summary of your engagement survey results.

      At my practice, we always share a summary of the survey results with our entire team. We include a graph for each non-open-ended question showing how it was rated. We don’t share any verbatim open-ended comments, but we do sometimes provide a summary of the common themes. I think that our team values this level of transparency. It’s an important part of demonstrating the value of their participation. All that said, sharing the results may not always be a good idea. If your practice is facing some major cultural challenges or there’s a lot of surface-level dissatisfaction present, you may need to be more selective about what you share. For instance, if your team sees that 50% of the respondents are actively looking for employment elsewhere, you may cause more harm than good.


As I mentioned in point 1 of 8 above, I highly recommend using SurveyMonkey as it ensures employee feedback remains anonymous. In an upcoming post, I’ll be sharing some best practices for using this platform, as well as sample questions to get you on your way. Stay tuned!

Ben Spinks, CVPM, MBA, SPHR is the Hospital Administrator at Tipp City Veterinary Hospital and a veterinary practice consultant. He can be reached at [email protected]


1 There Are Significant Business Costs to Replacing Employees – Center for American Progress, 2012
Ben Spinks

Ben Spinks

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