Podcast #14

Volcano erupting with large cloud of smoke.
Asking for a raise can be scary, and nerve wracking. You might be putting it off because you feel that if you deserved a raise it would be provided, or you might be intimidated by the ‘manager’ or ‘boss’ and too afraid to ask for one. KICK ASS VETS will show you not only how to ask for a raise, but also how to combat common ‘smoke screen’ responses that clinics make to not give you one!
How to ask for a Performance/Pay Review
PREVIOUSLY UNDERPAID: ‘I have been assessing my role and production at your clinic, and doing some market research, and I have realized that I accepted a salary offer that is not appropriate for the work I am doing. I would like to have a pay review meeting where we can discuss my salary and role with the clinic.’

CHANGE OF JOB DESCRIPTION: ‘I have been assessing my role at your clinic, and since I initially started my job description has changed. I am now ___(insert your added responsibilities, or more undesirable hours/on-call, sole charge, etc.) __ which is a both a different, and more demanding job for which I was hired. I would like to set up a meeting to re-assess my contract and salary, so that it fits with my current job description.’
Butterfly coming out of cucoon.
If your job description has changed then your salary should change as well.
NO ROUTINE PERFORMANCE REVIEWS: ‘I have been assessing my role with your clinic, and since I have started working here ____ years ago I have not received a performance or pay review. I would like to have a meeting to discuss my role in the clinic, and would like to address my contract and salary so that it fits with both this role and my current experience level.’

NEW GRAD 6 MONTH REVIEW: ‘I have been evaluating my progress over the past 6 months, and I would like to have a meeting to discuss my progress, as well as my salary. I have progressed quickly and since I am now working independently, and my skills are drastically improved, I would like to discuss a pay raise that reflects my current role in the clinic.’
Smoke Screens
Clinics will often use terms and phrases when being asked for a raise or a higher salary to deter the request or justify not giving a higher salary or raise. KICK ASS VETS refers to these as ‘smoke screens’. We will outline some of these ‘smoke screen’ phrases and ways to combat them.
Vice grip around a wallet.
KICK ASS VETS will go over some responses to common phrases that can help loosen the vice-grip clinics have on their salary wallets.
“I will have to check with ‘the boss’ and get back to you.”
This common phrase is appropriate, however you should ensure you have some constraints around what the ‘middle management’ will bring to ‘the boss’, and in what time frame. Ask for an email follow up from your meeting stating that a raise of ‘x’ amount will be brought to the attention of ‘the boss’ and a reply will be provided in ‘y’ amount of time. If you don’t receive this email promptly than follow up.
“It’s not in the budget”
This is a common one! This is an attempt to take the ‘blame’ off the owner/manager and is playing the ‘nothing we can do’ card. The reality is that it is your managers’/boss’ job to run their business, and their job to manage the budget. If you are not being paid appropriately for the job you are doing, your boss can either find room in the budget to pay you more, or find room in the budget to pay an agency to find a vet, and then pay to take time to train a new vet. We will let you think about which of those is more expensive.

WALK AWAY POINT: I suggest determining what your ‘walk-away’ point is, the value below which you will leave this job for another. This means doing your research to determine if you have other options that you would leave your current employment for if a raise is not obtained. This will give you great ‘power’ in your negotiation, because you can confidently discuss your ‘walk away point’.

JUSTIFICATION: Independent of the fabled ‘budget’, you need to have a justification as to why you deserve your raise. See more in the Interview Guidelines and Negotiation Tactics blogs. Ensure you are financially valuable to the clinic, and the salary you are asking for is fair and appropriate!

‘I understand you have to manage your budget, however the salary I have asked for is more than fair and is appropriate for the level of work I am performing. Therefore I would appreciate if you would re-evaluate your budget and get back to me with your best possible offer.’

If you have a minimum amount in mind, below which you will pursue other employment options, you can add:
‘I very much hope to continue employment with your clinic, however my financial situation means that I cannot accept lower than ____(it is up to you if you wish to disclose your true ‘walk away point’ or a few thousand above this). Otherwise I will need to pursue my other options.’
Do not give an ultimatum that you cannot support or follow through. Using other job offers as ‘leverage’ is a tactic that you can use, however it is up to you if you feel this is ethical. KICK ASS VETS recommends working out what you WANT and NEED prior to a negotiation so you can be honest, but forceful, with your employer.
COMPROMISING: If you have gone through various arguments with your employer, and have collectively determined that you ‘deserve’ a raise, however it truly isn’t within the budget, but you would like to continue employment at that clinic, you can negotiate other ‘perks’ instead of a raise salary. You can discuss working less hours/week, a better schedule, more vacation time, CE, higher discounts for your own pets, etc. Negotiations and terms are limited only by your imagination.
“We cannot discuss pay reviews until ‘x’ date”
Person waiting at airport.
Much like a budget airline flight that gets delayed over and over again with no real explanation why, clinics will delay and push back your review as much as possible.
Clinics will use any excuse to delay or push back a performance/pay review, stating they have to wait until ‘after christmas’ or ‘next fiscal year’ or ‘next quarter’. Sometimes this is due to the clinic not knowing how to run a performance review, but more commonly they will not want to have a salary discussion because they are trying to not give you a raise.

As a new graduate you should be getting a 6 month and then yearly performance and pay review written into your contract. As an experienced vet, you can still ask for a 6 month performance review, however yearly reviews are more common. However, if you feel you have been undervalued, or if your job description has changed, you should feel comfortable asking for a re-evaluation of your salary at any time.

REVIEW ALREADY PUSHED BACK: ‘I understand that your typical reviews are at ‘x’ time of year, however my performance/pay review was delayed and was supposed to be __ (time) ago, therefore I am already overdue. I request a meeting at your earliest availability to discuss my salary.’

JOB DESCRIPTION CHANGE: ‘I understand your typical reviews are at ‘x’ time of year, however as of __(time) my job description changed to include _______. Therefore I request a meeting at your earliest availability to discuss my salary, as my job responsibilities did not wait for ‘x’ time of year to change.’

SIGNIFICANTLY UNDERPAID: ‘I understand your typical reviews are at ‘x’ time of year, however I have realized that I undervalued myself and I would be being unfair to myself to continue working at my current salary. I request a meeting at your earliest availability to discuss my role with your clinic, and what an appropriate compensation for that work would be.’
This last arguement is best used when you are significantly underpaid (>$10000), and would otherwise leave the job for a better paid job. If you are underpaid by a small amount ($2000-$5000) then it is best to wait for your yearly review. It is better to do your research prior to taking a job!
“You haven’t been producing as much as expected/other vets”
Two boxers, one punching the other out.
Clinics may try to knock your confidence down before a negotiation with unsubstantiated claims.
This is a common line that clinics will use to try to undercut your confidence, or argue that you aren’t as financially valuable to the clinic. For some individuals that might actually be true, however it is often a phrase used with no actual supported information.
Let's Get Personal
A good friend of mind worked her first job out of school at a clinic where she was on-call and working out of hours in an undesirable location in northern Canada. She was already being paid a lower salary than justified by her location, and she wasn’t being paid appropriately for her on-call. Overall she was working at least 60 hours/week, and making a salary that would be inappropriate for a 40hr work week.

One week prior to her yearly review her boss pulled her into the office and told her she had to ‘pull up her socks’ and she ‘wasn’t performing as well as the other vets’. My friend was embarrassed and shamed, and went home to cry. Upon speaking with her I asked her what evidence they had to support this claim. She stated she didn’t ask. I directed her to ask in her yearly review.

Her yearly review came along and the clinic offered her to continue on with them but at the same salary as the previous year. They told her she was no more valuable 1 year out than she was as a new graduate. She followed my directions and asked to see the data that she wasn’t making as much as the other vets, to which they replied 'Oh we can’t show you exact numbers because the computer system doesn’t record properly'.

So the company used her ‘lower production’ as an excuse to give her NO raise at all, but then followed it up with ‘no we can’t show you any data to prove this.’ My friend being less than confident took this at face value and accepted that she wasn’t valuable. Fortunately she left that clinic not too much later and found a clinic that financially valued her appropriately.

MORAL OF THE STORY: If you are told a ‘fact’ about your production, ask to see the data! Do not allow clinics to make arbitrary claims about your work and value that they cannot back-up.
It is important to demand to see any data that is apparently reflecting your skills or financial value as an associate veterinarian. It is also very important to determine that the WAY the data is being recorded is accurate and fair, and that the distribution of tasks (ex. surgeries are more lucrative so you should have equal opportunity to perform surgeries) is fair.
In the rare circumstance where you really are not producing or not working to the expected level, and clinics can show you this, you should be having a discussion with your employer as to WHY. When clinics display that your production is lower, or you are less efficient, etc., try your best to not get emotional. Take this as an opportunity to learn and grow. Discuss with your boss about particular aims and goals, or particular pitfalls, and work on these aspects. Discuss milestones that you should be hitting, and what the financial reward would be for achieving these milestones.

Any discussion or negotiation about salary or wage should be one that is rational, and professional. There shouldn’t be extreme emotions from either side of the table. If you deserve a raise you should calmly explain and display why, and if you are not as productive as you should be you should have a calm and organized conversation about how you can improve.
ASKING TO SEE THE DATA: ’I hear that you are saying that I am producing less/are less efficient than other staff, however from my perspective I am working just as hard and efficiently. Could you please show me how you have determined that I am producing less and how these values are obtained.’

ASKING TO SEE THE DATA: ‘I hear that you are saying that I am producing less/are less efficient than other staff. Could you please show me how you are arriving at this assessment?’

NO DATA OR DATA SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR ARGUMENT: ‘I hear that you are saying that I am not as profitable, however that is not how I perceive my production. I KNOW that I am working just as hard, and efficiently as the other staff, and feel that a salary of __ is fair. If you truly believe that I am not profitable I would like to see data to support this.’

IF YOU ARE LESS PROFITABLE: ’I respect and see that I am not being as profitable to the company as the other staff. Can we please dissect in which areas specifically I am not reaching potential and ways to improve this?’
3-6 months prior to your pay review you should start gathering data. Collect data on how many consults/surgeries/procedures you are doing/day. Try to get a financial idea of what gross income you are bringing into the clinic. This will give you power when your boss says you are profitable, as you can show your collected data to prove you are!
“We pay according to __ recommendations”
Clinics may refer to/argue fee guides, ‘modern award', or other ‘recommended’ salaries when discussing your pay. Salaries are determined by how much money that employee brings into a business, as well as the ‘industry standard’ for pay for that occupation, and supply and demands to fill the job. These are determined by how much that service is valued by the public, and how well a group has advocated for themselves. Unfortunately veterinarians are very poor advocates for themselves, and traditionally bad at running businesses. This has led to an ‘Industry Standard’ that is unfortunately low. Therefore, when clinics argue ‘industry standard’ in terms of fee guides, or ‘modern award’, etc., we need to be standing up to the clinics and pushing for a more appropriate salary.

The other factor that determines salary is supply and demand. As veterinarians are realizing that the job they are performing is not worth the dismal salary, they are leaving the profession, leaving the demand very high. This means that we should be ignoring ‘industry standard’ and determining our wage based on our true financial value to the clinics. See Evaluating Your Worth: Experience Vet for more information.

’I understand that fee guides have set a wage, however as the expectations and demands of the profession changes, as should our compensation. I have examined the current market, and wages that can be obtained, and a more true representation of the value of a veterinarian in today’s market is in the range of ____. Since I have experience with x,y,z I feel that a starting salary of __ is fair.’

‘I appreciate that you have looked at the fee guide to set your initial offer, however due to the current market and due to the changing nature of veterinary medicine, the fee guides are somewhat outdated. In terms of the value that I can bring to your clinic, I am worth ___ amount. Hire me and let me prove it to you!’
Most veterinarians stay in clinical practice approximately 5 years before switching careers. Also, all salary averages are a result of who responds to surveys or places their salaries on websites such as Indeed/PayScale. This means that ‘average’ salaries, which are often used as justifications of full-time experienced salaries, are drastically skewed. They are firstly skewed because in this ‘average’, 20% of the responses are likely to be new grad wages, which should be significantly less than the vet that has 10 years experience. Also, they are skewed because people making a good wage, at a good clinic, aren’t on websites such as Indeed/PayScale trying to determine if they are being paid appropriately and uploading their salaries. So the ‘average’ is skewed to the lower end of the range.
“Sales are down this year”
Graph of economic crash with recovery.
Business owners should be prepared to ‘weather the storm’ of an economic downturn. The economy will always fluctuate, and it is the business owners' job to manage their expenditures over these fluctuations.
Clinics will often use ‘it’s been a bad year’, or ‘the economy is down’ as excuses to not give raises or pay appropriately. Veterinary medicine is a service industry that is supported by individuals’ disposable income, therefore it will be affected by the economy. Clinics, as the business owners, then have to decide on how to ‘weather the storm’ of the lower income to the clinic. Sometimes clinics will extend their opening hours, or offer discounts/‘promotions’ to try to keep the clients coming. These are all business owner decisions, and are part of the Risk vs. Reward of being a business owner.

Notice that at no point does the associate come into play in the explanation above. If a clinic chooses to charge less, or be open later hours, this doesn’t mean that the associate isn’t working, or isn’t at work, just as much. If a clinic owner wants an associate to be at work, they should pay appropriately. Clinic owners have the option of clumping their appointments and having employees work less hours, or any other creative way they can manage their business. Also, economic ebbs and flows are part of life, and clinic/business owners should be prepared for this. They should be squirrelling away in profitable years to be able to continue with business during harder years.

If ‘sales are down’ and clinic owners KNOW that it will be financially impossible to pay appropriately/administer raises, then clinic owners should be discussing this with staff and talk about reduced hours so staff have the option of picking up hours else-where. Alternatively owners can discuss ahead of time that maybe this year work will be ‘easier’/‘less stressful’ but instead of cutting hours owners will keep staff on board, but there will be no raises due to the lower work-load.

‘I understand that the economy is down, however I have been working just as much and just as hard. Being an associate vet I should be paid for my work, independent of the economy. I am happy to work hard with you to figure out ways to help weather this financial storm, but I deserve to be compensated fairly for this work.’
Clinic owners have the risk of owning a clinic. This means that if the economy goes down, they will take that hit. They will also however benefit from the reward when the clinic does well and the economy is thriving. It is important for associate vets to continue to work hard despite the economy, and help the clinic find ways to contribute to revenue, however they should not lose income due to poor economy. Associate vets need to advocate for themselves, and clinics need to properly manage their businesses. Open communication is important!
“Too big of a raise at once”
Humpback whale breaching.
‘Big Jumps’ in salary are often met with resistance. It is important to explain to employers WHY the jump is justified.
Often-times when veterinarians fully assess their worth and come to their boss regarding a specific raise amount, they are combatted with the “we can’t give you that big of a raise at once”, or “if we give you that big of a raise others will want it too”. The reality is, if the job description and your financial worth to the clinic is worth a particular salary, and this is a ‘too big of a jump at once’, the clinic has just been getting a deal up until this point. Your salary should be a product of the current market and your current value to the clinic, and not a product of what others are being paid, or a product of what you were previously paid. This is especially true when your job description has changed.

‘I appreciate that I am asking for a large raise, however I have done the research and given my current job description and what this job is worth, the salary I am asking for is fair.’

‘I appreciate that I am asking for a large jump in salary, however I have realized that when I previously accepted this lower salary I did myself a disservice. I have realized that the current job I am performing is worth more than my current compensation. I am just asking for what is fair given what I contribute to the clinic.’

‘I appreciate I am asking for a large jump in salary, however my job description has drastically changed in __ manner. This means that really I am not asking for a raise, but a salary that is consistent with the work I am now doing for your clinic.’
“We will look at a pay review next year/later”
This is a common phrase that is a delay tactic. To suggest a pay review next year, or later, suggests that the clinic doesn’t financially feel you are of more value NOW. If you are financially valuable to a clinic NOW, you should have a pay rise NOW, not later.

FIRST ASK WHY: ‘Why would we wait until next year? Is there a specific reason that you don’t feel that I am financially worth a pay raise now?’ By asking ‘why’ you will force the clinic to either recognize they are just delaying, or they will be forced into a conversation about your financial worth. Either result is beneficial.

‘I understand that you want to wait for __ reasons, however as I am financially contributing to the clinic now, I feel it is more than fair to be compensated for this now.’

‘I appreciate that you don’t want to pursue a salary raise at this point, however I would be remiss if I did not insist that I am worth more, and need to ensure that I am properly compensated for my work. I would like you to revisit your time-frame.’
“We don’t have room in the budget because we bought new equipment this year”
Puppy with a bow in a present box.
Just because a client buys a new puppy doesn’t mean that it is your responsibility to pay for it. By the same logic, if a clinic buys a new ‘toy’ it is not your responsibility to pay for it as an associate vet.
Clinics will often put the financial responsibilities of running a business on their staff. This comes in the form of both blaming ‘buying equipment’ or ‘paying off debt’ (common excuse for new clinic owners). The reality is that the clinic owner is responsible for the risk and reward of any investment. Any equipment that is purchased should be bought with a financial plan of how that investment will pay for itself. This means that once again, this financial strain should NOT be placed on the associate vets.

‘I appreciate that equipment is expensive, and I love working in a clinic where keeping up to date and having great equipment is a priority. I do however feel that I have done my part by staying up to date and effectively using, and billing for, this new equipment. I have worked hard, and produced financially for the clinic, and feel that I should be rewarded for this effort, independent of the financial investments made by the clinic.’

‘I love that I get to work in a clinic that has in house diagnostics and tools, and thank you for that. However, I feel that my work should be reflective of my financial worth to a clinic and not the clinic’s investments, therefore I feel that the salary I am asking for is more than fair.’
KICK ASS VETS recommends that you determine what your salary should be based on your financial worth to a clinic, and pursue that salary. Don’t just back down when a manager/boss makes an arbitrary statement. Follow up, and push until you get to the bottom of any discussion. Also, if your boss truly believes you aren’t financially worth a raise, discuss with them WHY, and where specifically you are lacking so you can improve!

If you know you are being underpaid and have other options, and your clinic refuses to pay you appropriately, then you will need to consider if your other options are better options. Make sure you take into account the whole picture (staffing, schedule, location, work environment, toys, etc.) when deciding which clinic is best for you!
Have you had a ‘smoke screen’ response when asking for a raise? Did you let it beat you, or did you combat it with great responses of your own? Contact Us to let us know, and we can use your pain to help those in the future!
If you are preparing for a yearly review, an interview negotiation, or are staring down the barrel of one of these 'smoke screens' and feel you need some extra help, check out KICK ASS Consulting where we will help you tackle your smoke screen situation!
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published August 19th, 2019

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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