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Tweaks and tetris: Flexible working

18 Feb 2021 | Leigh-Anne Brown


Leigh-Anne Brown describes the ways her practice has varied working contracts to flex around the needs of individuals, to maximise their enjoyment of work and their ability to live their lives outside of it.

Tweaks and tetris: Flexible working Image

A change of lifestyle

I’ve owned my practice since 2008 and during that time we’ve tried lots of different ways to cover our trading hours. The needs of the business have evolved and changed, as have the needs of the team. The recruitment market has changed and become more challenging, so to attract and retain the best candidates, we have had to be open to some creative tweaks. Not all of them have worked out long term if the needs of the business or the team have changed, but we’ve had the pleasure of working with some excellent people and learned a lot.

When I qualified twenty years ago, vets seemed to work full time and that was that. Reception and admin teams often had shorter contracts and might work evenings or weekends only, but the vets and RVNs I knew all worked full time and mostly did on call as well. Speaking with friends of my own vintage now, virtually none work a traditional forty hour, five day week, with or without on call. Reading posts on online forums, it’s clear that there are many veterinary professionals who want to do bits of things other than vetting.

Accommodating the team

On my team, people have needed to bend the rota to accommodate their side gigs like a baking business, surfing lessons, evening classes, post graduate studies, second jobs and family commitments. People change; I’ve needed to reduce my workload when I sailed close to burnout; sometimes someone might need protected time for weekly appointments for a while. Families change, as toddlers go to school and parents get elderly, and we need to be responsive to keep good people. If we can’t accommodate people’s passions, they will seek a post that can, or worse, be lost to the profession. With a bit (ok a lot) of juggling of the diary and rota, and a collaborative approach we can usually reach a workable compromise. Having a team who will flex for each other makes for a happy workplace.

For a while, we opened extended hours seven days a week because our local out of hours provision changed and we felt we needed to be here for our clients. The antisocial hours tapped into a different pool of candidates and we had vets, nurses and admin colleagues who only wanted to work from 6pm onwards or on Sundays, and they became key members of the team. Over time we realised that the client demand just wasn’t there and gradually we’ve pulled back to more traditional hours, but the culture of tailoring working patterns to the team’s needs has stuck. At interview, we always ask candidates: “What would your ideal working pattern be?”. We can’t always accommodate it, but if we can we will.

Different ways to flex

We have people who compress full time hours over 4 days, to earn the week day off they need for their hobbies or to get maximum value and minimal environmental impact out of their commuting time. People who are night owls struggle with early starts and that works for those of us that love an early finish. It wouldn’t work if we were all the same. Some of us work more, shorter shifts, which works well for a new grad’s steep learning curve, and for me as my stamina isn’t what it was. This means plenty of contact time for us to work together through the PDP. The practice manager likes to be in before we are open to “eat the frogs” of the day before the phones start going, and she enjoys her evenings to herself. The reception team leader started working a few hours a week after having twins, and as the boys have grown is able to flex her hours around school and her childcare network.  We love when the boys wave at us as they pass the front door on their way home from school!

Success depends on the team all being collaborative. We find regular one to ones are essential to ensure there isn’t any quiet resentment brewing and to make sure we know how life is going for everyone. It’s not uncommon for people to decrease or increase their contacted hours. My top tips to make it work are:

  • Ask at interview what people want
  • Have regular one to ones to make sure the hours still suit
  • Be open to part time recruits to fill full time positions
  • Consider compressed hours
  • Make sure the business is getting what it needs as well as the team

Managing the diary is a never ending challenge with careful consideration to bookings so we have the right people in the right places - I’ve compared it to Tetris because fitting lots of different shaped bricks together is an ever changing puzzle. Without that frog eating practice manager it would be daunting, but the time spent is worth it to have a happy team.


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