Steph Barr
April 18th, 2023
9 min read

How can veterinary practices embrace flexible working?

How can veterinary practices embrace flexible working?

It goes without saying that the way the world works has changed dramatically since the pandemic. Certainly for veterinary teams it wasn’t as easy as simply sending everyone home with their laptops to work at their dining tables! From telemedicine via the kitchen, to appointments in the car park, teams had to get pretty creative in order to accommodate the needs of clients.

The pandemic also saw a huge boom in pet ownership, putting even more pressure on teams trying to navigate this new way of working. But despite the initial challenges faced when having to quickly adapt to a different, more flexible working style, it didn’t take too long for the benefits of working flexibly to come to light. Now many of us have settled into this 'new normal', it seems more veterinary professionals are looking at how a flexible working model can work for them and their teams.

We already know there is a staffing issue in the industry, and more veterinary professionals are seeking roles that offer flexible working arrangements. In order to attract and retain talented staff, veterinary practices need to embrace flexibility in their workplace policies. Indeed, a BVA survey from Autumn 2021 indicated that 53% of vets who do not work flexibly would like to.

In this article, we will take a look at the benefits of flexible working arrangements, the different types of flexible working that are available, and how veterinary practices can implement changes to their working policy to create a more attractive workplace for their team.

The benefits of flexible working in veterinary practices

Responses from the BVA survey revealed that vets have a range of reasons for wanting a more flexible approach to their working pattern. 56% of respondents were seeking more time for leisure activities, whilst 50% cited lifestyle needs. Caregiving responsibilities accounted for 28%, while an equal proportion of 28% cited health reasons. Additionally, 22% sought flexibility to make time for professional development, and 16% desired more time for voluntary work.

With stats like these, it's no wonder more and more veterinary professionals are seeking more flexible working opportunities. Working long hours with few or no breaks, combined with intense pressure to handle client demand has created an environment which is leading many in the industry to experience burnout. This culture can have serious consequences on the mental and physical health and wellbeing of team members, leading to reduced motivation, job satisfaction and staff retention. Whilst the issue of retention undoubtedly requires a multifaceted approach, adopting a flexible working policy can be one way of addressing this issue. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Better work-life balance: Research conducted by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons highlights that 80% of vets have seen an increase in their workload since before the pandemic, with more than 60% stating that they have experienced a level of conflict between their professional role and their overall wellbeing. With stress and burnout on the rise, flexible working arrangements can make a huge difference to employee wellbeing, giving teams time to deload and decompress, whilst having more time to prioritise their mental and physical health, work and personal responsibilities more easily.

  • Increased productivity: When employees have the freedom to work more flexibly around their day, they can often get more done than those who are tied to a strict schedule. This can be a real game-changer for veterinary teams who may be struggling with burnout and feeling overwhelmed, allowing teams the freedom to optimise their work output while still maintaining their wellbeing.

  • Attraction and retention of staff: Reflecting back on the BVA Survey stats that 53% of vets would like to work flexibly, offering flexible working arrangements can help you stand out as an employer who values their teams’ work-life balance and helps retain talented employees. Having a flexible working culture can also open up a much wider pool of talent when hiring by giving opportunities to individuals who may be unable to work full-time, or those who may also have personal commitments such as caregiving responsibilities.

What different types of flexible working arrangements are there?

Often a lot of the hesitancy or confusion around flexible working requests can be attributed to a lack of understanding as to what flexible working actually involves. Flexible work arrangements, also known as flexible work styles, refer to employment practices that allow employees to have more control over when, where, and how they work. Such arrangements provide employees with greater autonomy and work-life balance, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

Understanding different flexible working arrangements

There are several types of flexible working arrangements that veterinary practices can offer. These include:

  1. Remote working: This involves allowing employees to work from home or another location outside of the physical work location, if it is possible to do some or all of the work in a place other than the normal work location.

  2. Flexitime: Also known as 'flextime', this refers to a work arrangement where employees have the ability to select their own start and end times for work within certain parameters that are agreed upon with their employer. This arrangement often includes a set of 'core hours', such as 10am to 4pm, during which employees are required to be present or available for work. By having more control over their schedules, employees can better manage their personal and professional obligations, leading to increased job satisfaction and work-life balance.

  3. Job sharing: Two (or in some cases more) people will split full time hours between them over the course of a week or month. This could be a really helpful solution for individuals who may be perfect candidates for a role, but cannot commit to full time hours.

  4. Compressed work week: This arrangement enables employees to work their full-time hours within a shorter timeframe, typically by working longer hours over fewer days. For example, an employee may work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days.

  5. Part-time work: This involves allowing employees to work fewer hours than a full-time employee.

  6. Annualised hours: This working style sees a set number of hours established that an employee will work over a year, but allowing them to have more control over when those hours are worked. There are sometimes ‘core hours’ which the employee regularly works each week, and they work the rest of their hours flexibly or when there’s extra demand at work.

  7. Staggered hours: This is when the employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers.

How veterinary practices can embrace flexible working

Now that we have examined the advantages of flexible work arrangements and explored the different types available, how can veterinary practices implement these policies effectively? Here’s some pointers to help:

Step 1: Clarity is key

It is important to ensure that your flexible working policies are clear, concise and transparent. Doing so will enable your employees to have a better understanding of the available options and how to request them.

Step 2: Keep an open mind

If an employee requests a flexible work arrangement that is not already covered in your policies, consider it carefully. Being open to new ideas and accommodating to your employees' needs can help to improve workplace morale and retain talented staff.

Step 3: Leverage technology

With the advancements in technology, it is now easier than ever for employees to work remotely. Therefore, it is crucial to provide the necessary tools and software to support remote working.

Step 4: Create a supportive culture

Flexible work arrangements can only succeed when there is a supportive work culture that values work-life balance and respects employees' personal commitments.

Step 5: Measure success

To ensure the continued success of your flexible working policies, it is important to monitor their effectiveness and make necessary adjustments. Doing so will enable you to better meet the needs of your staff and improve overall workplace satisfaction.

FAQs about flexible working in veterinary practice

As an employer, how can I sustain my team's productivity while working remotely?

Effective communication plays a critical role in ensuring the success of remote work arrangements, and establishing clear expectations regarding communication and work output with your team up front keeps everyone on the same page. Utilising workflow, scheduling and communications tools such as Plexi helps foster collaboration and ensures that everyone stays connected and up to date. 

What if I'm worried that flexible working arrangements will negatively impact the quality of care we provide to our patients?

While it's important to ensure that patient care remains a top priority, there are ways to accommodate flexible working arrangements without sacrificing quality. For example, consider staggering work schedules so that there is always coverage during peak hours. Or you could invest in technology to help automate some of the more routine tasks in practice, freeing up time for your staff to focus on providing quality care.

How can I determine what types of flexible working arrangements will work best for my veterinary practice?

Get the ball rolling by chatting with your team to find out what flexible work arrangements they would like to see. It's always good to have an ear to the ground, so don’t hesitate to reach out to other veterinary practices to see what has worked for them too. And if you really want to make sure you're covering all bases, you could consider teaming up with a human resources consultant who can help you create bespoke policies tailored to your practice.

Are you ready to embrace flexible working in your veterinary clinic?

As the veterinary industry continues to evolve, it's important for practices to stay competitive by offering attractive workplace policies. Flexible working arrangements can be a key differentiator in attracting and retaining talented staff. By being open to new ideas, creating a supportive culture and utilising technology to your advantage, your practice can create a workplace that meets the needs of modern employees while still delivering high-quality care to your patients. So why not embrace flexibility and take the first step towards a more attractive workplace today?

If you'd like to find out more about how Plexi can help you're veterinary practice adopt a flexible working model, speak to our friendly team to find out more!

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