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Posted: 5th August 2022

Practice teams urged to embrace flexible working
Time for professional development and voluntary work were among the reasons cited by vets for working flexibly.

"It’s vital that the profession recognises that inflexible working patterns contribute to poor retention" - Malcolm Morley, BVA.

Veterinary teams are being encouraged to embrace flexible working in a bid to repair the profession's recruitment and retention problems.

The call from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) comes after a survey revealed that 44 per cent of vets wish to work more flexibly.

More than 700 UK vets responded to the BVA's Voice of the Veterinary Profession Autumn 2021 survey, in which they were asked if they currently worked flexibly on a regular basis.  It found that flexible working rose from 44 per cent in 2019 to 50 per cent in 2021.

The survey also revealed that 50 per cent vets would like to work more flexibly than they currently do, to allow more time for leisure activities (56%), to fit in with lifestyle needs (50%), and for caregiving responsibilities (28%).  Other popular reasons for requesting flexible working arrangements included health reasons (22%), time for professional development (16%) and time for voluntary work (12%). 

Additionally, there was a wide range in the types of flexibility that vets hoped to achieve. Working part-time was the most popular option (31%), followed by homeworking (16%), flexitime (13%) and compressed hours (5%). 

Malcolm Morley, BVA junior vice president, commented: “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.”

To support workplaces interested in exploring a more flexible approach, the BVA has launched a new campaign under its Good Veterinary Workplaces workstream. 

The campaign includes a new booklet: Flexible Working: Embracing Flexibility in the Veterinary Profession, which aims to show how this style of working can benefit employers and employees in various veterinary teams. The booklet also offers tips and advice on tacking some of the challenges thay may arise when introducing flexible working to a clinical envrionment.

Malcolm added: “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. 
He added: “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.”

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