HCR Law Events

13 September 2023

The role of sabbaticals and veterinary volunteering

It is well known within the veterinary sector that employee burnout has been recognised as an emerging issue – having significant impacts on nearly all practices within the sector. Not only does employee burnout massively affect individuals personally, but research has shown that it is also a significant contributing factor to employee turnover, absenteeism and productivity.

With this becoming an increasing concern, veterinary employers need to explore different ways they can help to overcome this. One way to aid this is the use of sabbaticals.

Sabbaticals are a period of leave, unpaid or paid, away from the workplace which is over and above an employee’s normal entitlement to paid annual leave. Whilst the usual periods of leave such as holidays or sick leave are commonly short, frequent periods of absence, sabbaticals are usually one single period of extended leave allowing more time away from the workplace in one go.

There are no specific laws relating to sabbaticals and whilst there is no legal obligation for employers to offer this to employees, more frequent use of this provision has demonstrated the benefits these can bring.

Traditionally, the use of sabbaticals was not particularly common and were usually seen in academic environments for professional reasons only. As employees and employers started to see the benefit of having these extended periods of absence, they have more recently been used for personal reasons as well. These have included travelling, volunteering and spending time with family. As this provision has become more well-recognised, employers in all sectors have begun to see the vast amounts of perks these can bring to their workforce and are now actively encouraging the use of sabbaticals.

In 2019, the RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Profession, 2.4% of those surveyed were taking a career break and within that pool, 13% of people were taking a sabbatical. Within the report, the median length of career break was 25.5 months, but sabbaticals can be offered for a duration of time that suits your practice, i.e., one, three, six or nine months.

For employees, the use of this period of leave can have a host of benefits such as career development, leaning new skills, improving health and helping to refresh and recharge. Whilst this can be a superb way for employees to refocus, this will then, in turn, have a number of advantages for employers.

This includes employees being more refreshed and motivated, having new skills and experience, and allowing much needed time to recover from the growing issue of employee burnout. By keeping employees fresh and motivated and allowing them the opportunity to take time out for themselves they will be much more likely to stay with you and feel supported in their goals.

While retaining employees and avoiding burnout is crucial in fostering a strong and healthy workforce, it is also well known that the sector faces a skills shortage, as outlined in our recent report. By offering veterinary volunteering programmes, this allows for those who are considering this field of work to experience the environment first hand. This can help individuals to make a decision as to whether they feel the sector is right for them, so helping to reduce employee turnover. Care should be taken to assess the impact volunteering programmes can have on employment status, and the ability for individuals to attend at and work at your practice, such as recruitment checks and insurance.

In addition to offering veterinary volunteering programmes within your practice, similar to the benefits that can come with taking sabbaticals, practices are starting to see the benefits of encouraging staff to take some time out to partake in veterinary volunteering programmes elsewhere e.g., specialist interest projects or overseas charity work.

Not only can this help to reduce employee burnout, it can also advance careers through learning new skills, experiencing new areas of work, meeting new people and building new connections. By encouraging this, your employees may return to the practice refreshed and with new experiences and skills under their belt.

It is understandable that companies may be hesitant here due to the thought of losing valuable members of the team for a significant period of time, especially given the current recruitment market. However, by taking the leap into utilising programmes such as these, employers will begin to reap the benefits and help to relieve some of the much-needed pressure off one of their most important assets: their workforce.

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About the Author
Stephanie Hallett, Head of Eagle HR

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