Flexible working for vets – a win-win arrangement?

29th December 2022

Flexible working is a topic which has evolved following the Covid-19 pandemic; the experience significantly changing the way in which people work as well as the way in which they now think about work.

Flexible working can be difficult to define as it is often seen by what it isn’t, this being not the “normal 9-5”. It is a type of arrangement which gives a degree of flexibility on how long, where, when and at what time employees work. More people are now thinking about this to suit their personal needs rather than sticking with the “traditional” working pattern of being in the workplace from 9-5 Monday to Friday.

A recent study confirmed that 92% of millennials identify flexibility as a top priority when job hunting, with 70% of employees seeing that flexible working makes a job more attractive to them.

Furthermore, most of those who are over-50 want to ease slowly into retirement through reducing their hours and working more flexibly. These statistics demonstrate the huge appetite that there is for flexible working and suggest that those employers who do not wish to engage in these practices will be put at a huge disadvantage, particularly when it comes to recruitment and retention.

This viewpoint is also reflected across the veterinary sector, with the most common reasons vets gave for wanting to work more flexibly being:

  • To allow more time for leisure activities
  • Lifestyle needs
  • Health reasons
  • Caregiver responsibilities
  • Time for professional development

However, the growth in flexible working is not solely down to the pandemic. Legislation is also moving towards supporting the future of flexible working, with the government announcing on 5 December 2022 the reform to current legislation making workers able to request flexible working from day one of their employment.

Alongside making the ‘right to request’ a day one right, the UK government has also committed to there being a requirement on employers to consult with their employees as a means of exploring the available options prior to simply rejecting the offer. This is through allowing employees to make two flexible working requests in a 12-month period, the requirement on employers to respond to requests within two months – down from three, and the removal of the requirement for employees to specify in a flexible working request how the employer might deal with the effects of that request.

With studies demonstrating the business case for employers to engage in flexible working aligned with the advances in legislation this will accelerate the increase in the number of employers adopting flexible working practices. It is hoped that this will improve employees’ wellbeing and work-life balance, thus enabling businesses to attract, retain and look after their employees.

So, while many employers fear this change as a departure from traditional working structures – in particular within the veterinary sector due to factors such as staffing concerns, out of hours cover and continuity of care – there are compelling reasons to embrace the change.

Flexible working can be seen as a win-win arrangement for both employers and employees as it allows employees to ensure they have a good work-life balance and can therefore lead to improved job satisfaction, productivity, and retention. It also allows employers to help reduce employee burnout, absenteeism, and turnover.

Alongside this, offering flexible working can give a competitive edge when it comes to recruitment and widen the pool of talent, especially for those hard-to-fill roles.

The veterinary sector continues to face serious long-term staffing shortages, which in turn places additional pressure on the current teams to continue to provide a first-class service as well as covering shifts, so the consideration of further flexible working requests may seem unimaginable at this time.

However, the fix should not lie with continuing with the practices in place, such as rotas and a variable working hours culture. The key is to embrace change and support new and flexible working patterns. This will help promote better work life balance and increase the retention of employees while also increasing recruitment into the sector, particularly for those talented veterinary professionals who may have left the sector owing to restrictions on their ability to work traditional hours.

Forward-thinking employers will not be rigid in workforce planning, instead considering ways to accommodate fixed working hours and patterns such as part-time, term-time, compressed or annualised hours. This will allow employees the ability to plan regular social activities or fit work around caring responsibilities rather than enforcing variable working hours and rotas, as well as considering permanent nights, evening or weekend shifts to attract individuals who may wish to fit work around other responsibilities or leisure pursuits.  Above all talk to and listen to your staff – they can inform your thinking and help you to create a balanced workforce plan fit.