Can increased flexible working help fix the profession’s recruitment and retention problems?
The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is encouraging vet teams to embrace flexible working as new statistics show that 44% of vets would like to work more flexibly. With veterinary shortages causing recruitment and retention issues across many sectors of the profession, BVA is launching a new campaign, encouraging employers to consider whether flexible working might improve job satisfaction among their employees.
The statistics from the Voice of the Veterinary Profession Autumn 2021 survey show that levels of flexible working have risen in the profession in recent years, jumping from 44% in 2019 to 50% in 2021. But the survey also showed that many vets would like to work more flexibly than they currently do. Among those who do not work flexibly, 53% would like to and even among those who already work flexibly 36% would like more flexibility.
The campaign, launched this week as part of BVA’s Good Veterinary Workplaces workstream, includes new resources, to support both veterinary employees seeking increased flexibility and veterinary employers interested in exploring this approach for their team. There is a particular focus on the practicalities of introducing flexible working in clinical settings, where rates of flexible working remain much lower (44% vs. 67%).
BVA Junior Vice President Malcolm Morley said:
“The statistics clearly show that there is a huge appetite for more flexibility in working hours, particularly in clinical practice, where employers have previously been quite hesitant to explore this option. We understand that there are potential challenges to allowing more flexibility but we’re hoping to demonstrate that these are not insurmountable.
“It’s vital that the profession recognises that inflexible working patterns contribute to poor retention—recognition is the first stage in finding a solution. Embracing developments in flexible working could increase job satisfaction for many team members and ultimately improve retention.”
The new booklet, Flexible working: Embracing flexibility in the veterinary profession, includes facts, figures and case studies to help demonstrate how flexible working can benefit both employers and employees in a range of different veterinary teams and ultimately bolster retention and recruitment. It also offers tips and advice on tackling some of the challenges that can arise when introducing increased flexibility into a clinical workplace.
Both the case studies and the new data show that vets have a range of reasons for seeking increased flexibility in their working hours. The most common reason vets gave for wanting to work more flexibly was to allow more time for leisure activities (56%), while 50% cited lifestyle needs and 28% referred to caregiving responsibilities. Other popular reasons for seeking flexible working arrangements included health reasons (28%), time for professional development (22%) and time for voluntary work (16%).
The type of flexibility vets were hoping to achieve also varied: the most common type of flexible working sought was simply working part-time (31%), homeworking (16%) was the next most common, followed by flexitime (13%) and compressed hours (5%).
“The profession continues to face serious staffing shortages and we understand that the increased pressures on vet teams may make some employers anxious about introducing flexible working at a time when they are already struggling to cover shifts. However, the solution does not lie with vet teams working increasingly longer hours; a successful solution will need team members to be involved in supporting each other’s working patterns. Promoting a better balance between home and work could be key to supporting many staff who are currently unsure about remaining in the profession or returning to work.
“We hope that these new resources will support vet teams to have productive conversations about flexible working; how it can be of benefit to employers and employees, how any impact on the wider team can be managed and how requests for flexible working can be considered positively wherever possible, from all team members, regardless of the reason for their request.”
The resource will be available to BVA Members online at www.bva.co.uk/flexible-working from 5 August accompanied by a series of blogs, further exploring the challenges and benefits of flexible working. The topic was one of the ‘hot debate’ sessions at BVA’s new BVA Live event in Birmingham last month and future discussions are already planned for BVA Congress at London Vet Show in November.