Employee Relations Within A Vet Practice



Andrew Christie

BComm (Industrial Psychology)

This article is the first in a series of three which deal with maintaining

positive and mutually fulfilling employee relations within a Vet Practice.

The articles are sequential in that the first deals with the start of the employment relationship (recruitment, selection and appointment), the second explores the managing of the employment relationship (performance management, the grievance procedure and the creation of an HR policy) and the third examines the end of the employment relationship (resignations and dismissals, as well as the disciplinary procedure).


The Importance of Getting It Right

There are a number of negative implications for the practice if you do not recruiting and selecting correctly,

Financial implications:

  • The process is expensive
  • Mistakes made in the recruitment process are extremely difficult to rectify
  • There can be very high long-term costs when being forced retaining inappropriate staff
  • The cost of dismissing  inappropriate staff can be very high
  • A high staff turnover rate is costly, amongst other things, as the recruitment and selection process must be repeated more often

Legal implications:

  • South Africa’s legal requirements and obligations give a great deal of protection to job applicants. If the recruitment and selection process is incorrect, the applicant could take the practice to court and could possibly win the case.

Morale implications:

  • If the incorrect person is selected, it is probable that the job will not be performed optimally.
  • If the incorrect person is selected, it will affect the motivation of other people in the organisation when they start questioning why a less-qualified person was appointed.

Performance implications:

  • The person may not be able to perform the job
  • The person may need costly retraining in order to perform the job.


  • It is difficult to maintain a good practise image if employees are inefficient
  • The practice cannot ensure a reputation as equal opportunity employer if poor employment standards are maintained


Job Analysis

Recruitment of new staff typically begins with the replacement of an employee who has left. Unfortunately, the focus of the recruitment then becomes seeking someone who has the same skills as the person who has left or, alternatively, who has the skills that the previous job incumbent lacked. This often leads to problems as superior job applicants may be ignored and superficial decisions may be made based on the applicant’s personality or even appearance.

It is suggested that the purpose of the post be examined each time someone needs to be employed. It is useful to perform a job analysis using the below simple model:

The above model shows that the job position exists purely to convert inputs into outputs. For example:

  • A receptionist (position) converts customer interaction (inputs) into payments received and repeat visits (outputs)

Job analysis aims to answer the following questions: 

  1. Why does the job exist?
  2. What physical and mental activities does the worker undertake?
  3. When is the job to be performed?
  4. Where is the job to be performed?
  5. How does the worker do the job?
  6. What qualifications are needed to perform the job?
  7. What are the working conditions?
  8. What machinery or equipment is used in the job?
  9. What constitutes successful performance?


The Job Description

This is a list that a person might use for the general tasks, functions and responsibilities of a position. It may often include to whom the position reports, specifications such as the qualifications or skills needed by the person in the job, or a salary range.

A job description need not be limited to explaining the current situation, or work that is currently expected; it may also set out goals for what might be achieved in future.


The Job Specification

The Job Specification is a statement indicating the minimum acceptable human qualities which are necessary to perform a job. Job specification translates the job description into human qualifications so that a job can be performed in a better manner

1. Experience: 

  • Number of years of work experience required for the selected candidate.

2. Education: 

  • State what degrees, training, or certifications are required for the position.

3. Required Skills, Knowledge and Characteristics: 

  • State the skills, knowledge, and personal characteristics of individuals who have successfully performed this job, or use the job analysis data to determine the attributes you need from your “ideal” candidate. Your recruiting planning meeting can also help determine these requirements for the job specification.
  • The job specification must highlight which of the requirements are essential.  This should help potential candidates de-select themselves, so be careful: you may lose otherwise good candidates who don’t apply because of your ‘essential’ item. In addition to this, it becomes the foundation of performance management.


The Selection Process

Sourcing suitable candidates is a vital part of the recruitment process because either too few applicants, or too many may be reached. One of the requirements of legally fair recruitment is that all potential applicants are advised of the vacancy.

  • Adverting in newspapers and publications is the most used method. Using a newspaper reaches the most people, but using specialised publications can be extremely useful.
  • Word-of mouth referrals are regarded as prejudicial UNLESS the post is adequately advertised, and the WOM candidates follow exactly the same procedure.

The biggest problem with the job applicant process is that it can very easily become very complicated. In fact, the process is quite simple and needs only contain a few basic steps, which are outlined below:

Step 1: Make position known and indicate how applicant must apply

Step 2: Collate applicant information

Step 3: Make shortlist of suitable applicants

Step 4: Interview suitable applicants

Step 5: Select best applicant for the position

Normally a CV is requested from candidates, but an alternative is to have all candidates complete a standard application form; this makes comparison easier, elicits only the relevant information and prevents a deluge of unwelcome paper.

  • Compare applications against the job description and person specification outlining the skills and experience you need.
  • Eliminate applicants who do not have the basic requirements for the job. Draw up a shortlist – a list of candidates to interview – based on the applicants who most closely match your needs.

Unsuitable Candidates

All unsuccessful candidates must be contacted with a reason for the unsuitability of their application. This can be done by letter or email.  Telephonic interaction is not suitable due to the cost and because no record will then exist.

The reasons given should be as specific as possible and must clearly demonstrate the unsuitability of the candidate. A clause indicating that no further communication will take place must be included to prevent a correspondence developing.

Short listed Candidates

Short listed candidates should preferably be contacted by telephone.

You should mention:

  • When, where and how long the interview will be
  • How to get there – provide a map if necessary – and whether you will pay travel expenses
  • What documents the candidate should bring with
  • Who the candidate should ask for on arrival
  • The names and job titles of the people conducting the interview
  • If there will be a test to take, or a presentation and if so, its type and duration


The Interview

The interview is all about soliciting information from the job applicant. Because this is largely done through questions and answers, it is important to use the following as guidelines:

Ask relevant questions

This is perhaps the single most important piece of advice.  Apart from the ice-breaker session, ALL questions must be relevant to the task – i.e. finding out about the suitability of the applicant for the post.

You may not probe into the candidate’s personal interests, tastes, habits or opinions unless you can justify how the answer will tell you directly about the individual’s suitability for the job.

Every question you ask of any one candidate must be capable of being asked to all candidates.  It is discriminatory to ask a question of a female which you wouldn’t ask a male, since to do so implies you are discriminating on the grounds of gender.  Thus:

Typically this job requires some evening work.  Would you have any objections to working overtime?

This is fair and relevant question, since it provides information relevant to any candidate’s willingness to do the job, and can/will be asked equally of all candidates, regardless of gender.

What does your husband think of you moving if you get this job? 

This is totally unacceptable, since it is irrelevant to the candidate’s ability to perform the job, is personal to the candidate, and would almost certainly not be asked of a married male applicant.

Choose carefully between open and closed questions. A closed question generates a ‘yes/no’ response or forces the candidate to choose from two or more options, eg:  ‘Do you like your current job?’

An open question encourages a wider range of responses, and is more likely to get the candidate talking, eg: ‘What do you like about your current job?’

Open questions are good for getting the candidate talking; closed questions are good for checking and clarifying what’s been said, as well as for establishing facts.  However over-use of closed questions can make the interview seem like an interrogation, and can intimate the candidate.

Typically an interviewer will ask an open question, then follow up with closed questions as s/he seeks to clarify or probe the initial response, eg:

Q:‘How would you feel about being in charge of other people for the first time?’ (open)

A: ‘A little uncomfortable’

Q: ‘In what way uncomfortable?’ (open)

A: ‘I’d be worried about mistakes’

Q: ‘Do you mean mistakes you’d make, or mis takes your staff might make?’ (closed)

A: ‘Mistakes I’d make’

Q: ‘How worried do you feel about this?’ (open)

A: ‘Very’

Q: ‘Enough to prevent you taking the job?’ (closed)

A: ‘No’

Avoid leading questions

As their name implies, leading questions lead the candidate to an answer you probably want to hear.  They encourage a particular response, and thus the candidate is more likely to give an answer as/he thinks you want, rather than their own, eg:

‘What do you think of the idea?’

‘Do you find the job stressful?’

Instead of:

‘What do you think of this stupid idea?’

‘How do you handle the strain of the job?’

Treat the candidate as an equal

Avoid pompous put downs; don’t be patronising; if you come over as arrogant or superior, the candidate won’t open our to you, eg:

‘Please tell me about your HNC, and whether it helped you in your current job’

Rather than:

‘Do you think sub-degree qualifications like your HNC are of any use?’

Speak in plain English

You want the candidate to understand; don’t make it difficult.  Also, If you use jargon, s/he may think s/he has to reply in a like manner.  On the other hand, if you speak plainly, the candidate is more likely to do the same – eg:

‘Do you prefer working alone, or in a group?

Rather than:

‘Are you an isolate, or do you have preference for social interaction with  your peers?’

Ask one question at a time

The interview is a strain for most candidates.  Don’t add to the pressure by asking the candidate to hold two or three questions in his/her head.  A multiple question can also sound like a trick question.

‘which bit of that does he want me to answer?’

‘what did you study ?


‘has it helped you with your current job?’


‘Would you recommend the course?’

Rather than:

‘Tell me about the HNC – what your studied, whether you enjoyed it, what you thought of it and whether you’d recommend it to anyone else’. 

Keep your questions short and simple 

Long questions intimidate and confuse the candidate – and do nothing for your reputation! eg:

‘What do you find most enjoyable about your current job?’

Rather than:

‘Tell me about your current job.  Do you enjoy it? What do you like about it most – the job itself, the people, the workplace?’

Avoid ambiguous questions

These are usually the hardest mistakes to spot, since we never intend to be ambiguous – the meaning of the question is always perfectly clear to the questioner! eg:

‘Can you manage women as well as men?’

Could mean:

  1. Having supervised men, would you be able to supervise women also?
  2. Can you supervise a mixture of men and women, rather than just men?
  3. Are you able to manage women as skillfully as you manage men?

Taking Notes 

You need to have some record of the interview:

  • So you can discuss/compare performance
  • As proof/evidence of what was said
  • As a reminder for further action
  • Because memory fades

Writing as you go along can be difficult and distracting, and takes valuable time. Regular recaps and summaries are preferable; they provide suitable breaks to the flow, and show you’ve been listening; it also reassures the candidate that you’ve got the details right.

Another alternative is a pre-prepared tick sheet; these tend to be quick and easy to use, and help structure the interview.  But they have two disadvantages.  Firstly, candidates worry about the interviewer ‘ticking’ or ‘crossing’ sections of a sheet of paper;  it distracts and can intimidate.  Secondly, they need careful preparation.

Mechanical recordings can be used, but they are also intimidating to the candidate – and can break down!

Finally, you can have someone in to take notes. But it adds to the numbers, causing further pressure on the candidate; and secondly, the quality of the record depends very much on the quality of the note taker. My own preference is for the second option – regular recap and record. It is courteous to tell the candidate that you’re taking notes

After the Interview: Pre-Employment Checks

Employers have increasingly turned to pre-employment screening as a critical risk-management tool to try and avoid hiring problem employees in the first place.

Pre-employment background screening has 4 major benefits: 

  1. Just having background screening can discourage applicants with something to hide. A person with a criminal record or false CV will simply apply to a practice that does not pre-screen.
  2. It limits uncertainty in the hiring process.
  3. A screening program demonstrates that an employer has exercised due diligence, providing a great deal of legal protection in the event of a lawsuit.
  4. Having a screening program encourages applicants to be especially forthcoming in their interviews.

Finally, the recruiter must remember to keep all documents pertaining to EVERY application for a period of two years. This is partly so that documentation pertaining to a potential CCMA claim is evident. Some of the key documents that must be kept could be:

  • A CV
  • Completed Application Form
  • Certified copies of requested documents, such as ID, qualifications, etc
  • Information pertaining to any credit or employment checks
  • List of questions asked in the interview (including the pre-screening) and the answers


The Employment Contract

Once the applicant has been selected, a job offer must be prepared and presented to the successful applicant. It is an unfortunate fact that South Africa has a high unemployment rate and job applicants may be so desperate for work that they accept relatively poor conditions of employment. Once employed, the level of desperation decreases, only to manifest itself as job dissatisfaction. This can lead to costly legal action but certainly to problems in the workplace.

So, when drafting the job offer it is important to ensure it is totally compliant with the legal requirements.

The conditions of employment are set out mainly by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA). If something is not specified by the BCEA, then common law principles apply. Similarly, if something is included in the Constitution, but is different in the BCEA, then the Constitution takes precedence.

The BCEA requires the following (as a MINIMUM) to be included in all Contracts of Employment:

  1. Employer’s name and address
  2. Employee’s name Employee’s occupation or job description
  3. The place of work
  4. The date of commencement
  5. The ordinary days and hours of work
  6. The wage and / or the wage rate
  7. The other payments to which the employee is entitled
  8. The date when remuneration will be paid
  9. Details of any deductions that will be made
  10. The amount of leave that can and must be taken
  11. The period of notice, or date of termination of contract
  12. A list of any other documents which form part of the contract

Failure to give written particulars does not nullify contract

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