Staff retention and recruitment seems to be a problem currently within the veterinary profession. Maybe it always has been but we are noticing it more now. Since COVID as there has been an influx of new pets therefore creating a lot more work that we cannot keep up with. There are many reasons as to why staff retention may be a problem amongst the veterinary industry currently. But a problem it definitely is.
Table of contents
Work life balance.
A recent survey from the BVA #timeforachange shows that 44% of vets would like flexible working hours. Vets currently do not have a good work life balance. Some may be working 12 hour shifts (or occasionally even longer once on-call duties are taken into account). And then be back in the next day. So when do they have down time, when do they switch off work mode? Other members of the veterinary team, nurses and reception seem to have a better work life balance as they can leave work on time; although they may not switch off from the hectic day they have had.
Why vets rarely have a good work life balance.
A 2021 RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Profession found that 60% of vets left because of poor work life balance and 48% for long and unsocial hours.
The day to day running of a practice varies. Some days, although very rarely(!), are quite quiet and you can keep up with your appointments. But other days are so manic there aren’t enough hours in the day. On these days, vets are chasing their tails. As they’re trying to keep up, they end up spending hours over their home time to catch up, write notes, ring clients, report results and check their inpatients. They cannot just walk out of the door at 5pm. Therefore they are overworked and have no work life balance.
It is so important to try and have a good work life balance. Once you start being overworked, this is when you start to not enjoy your job. You dread going in the next day because you never know when you’re going to finish again.
This is a massive problem. As staff leave, the remaining staff are possibly having to carry that work load, as recruitment is always a problem. Therefore remaining staff have more strain put on them. This causes them to burnout and potentially leave too.
It’s difficult to get time out particularly for vets, who never really seem to have a proper lunch break, it always just seems the norm when really it shouldn’t be. When this begins to happen, the running of the practice should be reviewed, consulting times reviewed, the amount of staff in at one time and support given, things can be changed for the better. Happy staff means a happy practice.
A good bit of team work makes all the difference and relieves some pressure. Not having a good work life balance is a very common reason as to why people either leave the profession or change practices for better hours.
Out of hours.
It seems hard to find veterinary staff that want to work out of hours these days; this being vets and nurses. It was quite common that practices provided their own out of hours services until recently. Now most practices send their out of hours work to a 24/7 provider. Working a day shift then having to be on call in the night isn’t so appealing anymore; who can blame them really! Staff seem to stay if no out of hours is worked or you seem to be able to recruit more staff when you state that you don’t provide out of hours. On the other hand, this work suits some people.
Some people have opinions on how they would never work for a corporate practice, but why. The veterinary world is now mostly owned by corporate companies, although there are some independent ones still out there. Working for a corporate company may introduce new rules and protocols that people do not agree with. But they do also bring new opportunities. Vets and nurses have to do continued professional development, working for a corporation may allow for better courses to go on, a higher allowance and allow staff members to study areas of interest. They can also bring in new up to date equipment, something that the practice has been needing for months, that’s good… right?
Now to the salary.
A lot of people say ‘oh vets get paid loads with the amount I’ve just paid to see them’, how wrong could they be. Unfortunately that is not the case. Vets aren’t paid for all the overtime they do or get a bonus for how much they charge in a consult! For the amount of work they do the salary is likely not to really reflect that. A salary that reflects the work staff do would keep staff. According to the RCVS, 44% of vets leave the profession at least in part due to pay.
COVID has had a massive impact on the veterinary industry. With the surge of breeding pets and people buying them, it really has impacted veterinary practices. So much so that some practices had to close their registration books. With trying to catch up on vaccinations and other checks that have had to be postponed there was just no room for new clients.
It’s great that you have people wanting to register at your practice, but staff shortages and limited appointments do not go down well with clients. The BVA has reported that in 2020 six in ten vets experienced intimidation from clients. Which was a 10% increase from the previous year. Intimidation is experienced when no appointments can be offered and when discussing costs. This gives all staff great stress and puts so much pressure on them.
The veterinary industry has some of the highest suicide rates. The stress of the day can really take its toll on the team, if any staff member has had a bad day it’s always good to show some support and reach out to them. The veterinary profession isn’t all about cuddling cute animals, the pressure of trying to run on time, see emergencies and help the poorly pet takes a lot of hard work and thinking. There is always a constant worry of “have I done or said the right thing”.
The mental health aspect can affect any member of the team, as we’re all under the time constraint and dealing with clients. Some people may not be able to cope with this so for their own mental health leaving the practice or the veterinary profession is probably a sensible thing to do. The RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Profession found that 49% of vets have left the profession due to chronic stress.
In practice support.
It is so important that all staff members are supported by management and especially by other staff members. Having the support of your team makes the world of difference and allows you to ask for help when needed and you know it will be given. Our roles in practice are important, rewarding and as we have discovered stressful: but teamwork and communication makes for a better and easier day. Not having the support of management or your team can make you dislike your job, not want to ask for help, therefore creates a lot of stress. A happy team will stay in the practice.
Whilst some practices have some staff that have been there years and wouldn’t dream of leaving, others struggle to retain staff. If this is the case, the running of the practice, the management and team need to be reviewed. It is easy to keep and find staff if all good measures are in place. We do this job because we love it and we don’t want to leave the profession.
Whilst yes some vets hop around practices to gain different experience or want to specialise, we have to retain the ones that are happy in their role. This applies to all staff, we need receptionists that are happy as they are front-of-house, the ones the clients first see and we need nurses behind the scenes to help run the practice. Talking to staff and keeping check that they are OK is the way forward, communication is key. Hopefully in the future recruitment and retention will improve. But at the moment, we’re all struggling.
Useful links that discuss staffing issues are:
- Recruitment, retention and return in the veterinary profession — Preliminary report to the RCVS
- #TimeForChange: Can increased flexible working help fix the profession’s recruitment and retention problems? – BVA News
- Where are all the vets? Vet practices forced to close their doors under the strain of a recruitment crisis…