Would you like more time for your hobbies, your family, new interests? To fit work around your lifestyle needs? You are not alone! Almost 50% of vets in the UK say they want some form of flexible working arrangement. Yet over 50% find it difficult to arrange this with their employer (BVA Voice survey 2016). And what happens to the vets who are not able to coordinate their lifestyle needs and work needs?

“The most common reason that vets want flexibility is to have more time for leisure activities.”

Of the 2,934 vets who answered the 2018 BEVA/BSAVA Recruitment and Retention survey, half said they were ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to search for a new job position within the next two years. In contrast, only 10% said they wished to leave the profession entirely. Whilst it is very encouraging that vets generally want to stay in the profession, it highlights a need to address the reasons that they wish to change jobs. Veterinary surveys repeatedly highlight that work-life balance is the main reason that vets want to leave their current job position

If you are considering leaving your current position, what is the main reason? (BSAVA/BEVA Recruitment and Retention Survey 2018)

So, which vets are most affected by this problem? Many might think that this impacts female vets the most, but this is not completely true. There are indeed more female vets (30.5%) working flexible hours compared to male vets (13.6%). However, the largest increase in part-time work has in fact been documented for male vets. Male vets working part-time increased from 5.5% in 2010 to 13.6% in 2019. 

Flexibility as a priority for employee AND employer

The veterinary industry has always offered a 24/7 service. Now, many other industries are evolving to meet the demand by customers for always-on access to products and services. As a result, businesses are adapting their employee working patterns by offering different ways of working. These include part-time, seasonal and shift work. Flexible working in the UK is on the rise. In 2011, 5.1 million people were working under flexible arrangements in their primary job in the UK. This increased to 6.4 million people in 2017; a 25% increase in just six years. Employers are providing more freedom and choice about working hours and scheduling. Flexibility at work is a priority for employees too; one third of the UK working population states that some form of flexibility is the most important thing when looking for a new job (Quinyx, 2018). 

Wordle from the BEVA/BSAVA survey showing a few clear themes

Flexible working work for veterinary businesses

So how can we offer more flexibility in veterinary practice? How can we offer more flexibility for our permanent employees? The Flexee Project was set up to answer these questions. It is a veterinary-led project researching the best ways to provide flexibility in clinical practice. The aim is to find out how flexible working arrangements can be implemented to empower the employee, sustain a profitable business and strengthen the team. From our research to date, we know that it is critical to address all three elements – the individual, the team, and the business. None works without the others. A holistic approach is necessary to ensure that any changes are sustainable. We hope that our initial fact-finding phase of the project will feed into developing the key action points. The purpose of which is to help veterinary practices offer more flexibility for their employees.

How the Flexee project was born

“Anything that gets your blood racing is probably worth doing” – Hunter S. Thompson

We – Silvia and Jessica – are both vets who, besides our clinical careers, are passionate about exploring ways to improve the veterinary industry. Our drive has led us to co-found the Flexee Project, which explores ways in which flexible working arrangements can be better utilized in clinical practice. For this project, we are looking for insights from vet nurses, vets, practice owners and managers. Please see below for information about how to get involved. But firstly, here is how it all started…

We found ourselves increasingly talking about the challenge of flexibility at work. We are very excited about the possibility of helping to shape the future of veterinary practice. And so the Flexee Project was born. 

Why do we want flexible working?

There are many reasons why people need more flexibility at work. We were surprised to find out that the most common reason that vets want flexibility is to have more time for leisure activities. The second reason is to fit work in with their lifestyle needs. The third most common reason is because of care-giving responsibilities, including children, and disabled or elderly relatives. With the recruitment and retention issues that our industry is experiencing, and having seen many of our friends and colleagues leave practice altogether, our anecdotal evidence was that a lack of flexibility had a key role to play. We set out to gather data and experiences from vets working in practice to help find sustainable solutions. 

We would love your help with our project! If you would like to get involved, please click here to find out more about our Flexee Project. Firstly, to share your experience of working in veterinary practice, take part in our survey. You can also register for a one to one professional insights interview with us. Please get in touch with us for further information: vetsvet20@gmail.com.

About the authors

Silvia Janská – Enjoying clinics and much more

I had a long and winding road to becoming a vet. It took me 4 application attempts to get a place on a vet course in the UK. The more I was rejected, the more appealing the challenge was! I obtained a BSc in Veterinary Science and an MSc in Wild Animal Biology prior to graduation with a vet degree from RVC. As a student, I already loved getting involved in various projects. Little did I know that this was the start of my ‘portfolio career’. Throughout my studies at the RVC, I also worked in the e-Media department on various projects that enhanced student learning. What started as a volunteer job became an opportunity to earn money during university. I picked up lots of amazing skills along the way. After graduating, I went on to do an internship and a certificate in Veterinary Business Management. I love being a vet and the opportunities my degree has brought with it. But as a full-time equine vet in clinical practice I soon had to give up most of my side projects and hobbies due to a lack of time. 

Wanting a bit more flexibility in the way I worked, I started exploring this topic. I felt two frustrations: one, that too often I worked longer hours without any compensation. Secondly, that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is often adopted in veterinary workplaces. The first step was to find a clinical job that allows time for me to work on exploring this further. At a similar time I also attended Ebony Escalona’s V:SGD Live! event where I was reunited with Jessica. The more we chatted, the more we realised that we were facing the same challenges and frustrations. We quickly found out that there were many other vet employees who felt the same. What’s more, there are also many employers who have either already tried to introduce more flexibility in their workplace, or wanted to – which is a great sign. We felt that the opportunity was there, it just needed to be addressed. 

Jessica May – Looking for flexibility with work

After graduating as a vet in 2012, I made myself a promise: not to lose sight of my life outside of work. I knew that I wanted to be an equine vet. Having grown up with horses on a farm, I was under no illusion about the hours involved. Two fantastic internships, and seven years in equine practice, later I was finding it very difficult to carve out space and time for hobbies around busy days on the road. What I hadn’t yet realised was that I needed flexibility at work. Looking around at my colleagues, they seemed to have it sussed, and it felt very isolating. My family and friends were very supportive, but I knew that I was the only one who could find the solution. At this time Dr Ebony Escalona launched a new Facebookgroup, Vets: Stay, Go or Diversify! (V:SGD!) where industry discussions, support and solutions abounded.

At this time, Silvia and I started to discuss flexible working in the veterinary industry, and beyond. We had first met as undergraduates at the RVC, in 2006, as part of the Mountaineering club. We were starting out in our veterinary careers on the BSc Veterinary Sciences course. Fast forward several years and we were both working in equine practice. Finding that we had little time for interests and hobbies, we were both looking for more flexibility in the way we worked. We were also hearing about the need for more flexible working options from discussions with many of our colleagues. A little research showed us that this was a huge topic of interest outside of our industry, and we began to delve deeper.

Related content: You may be interested in Cat Henstridge’s blog on ‘Not Doing it All’ about the work-life juggle.

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