Employee value propositions

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employee value propositions
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In a climate where employees can pick and choose their employers, an employee value proposition could make or break your business. So what should the modern day vet practice offer in order to attract and retain staff? By Janet Stone

Poor mental health and burnout due to overwork caused by an increased demand for veterinary services has led many to leave the industry and the subsequent vet shortage crisis. An employee value proposition (EVP) is an effective tool to attract and retain staff at your practice in a competitive market. 

Having a clearly defined list of what your practice can offer your employees outlined in your EVP, in terms of benefits and culture, ensures a high-quality experience for both customers and employees.

So, what do vets and practice staff prioritise when looking for work? 

It’s not a surprise that people, across all industries, are seeking a better work-life balance and that flexible working arrangements are a key part of achieving this.   

Offering flexible working arrangements as part of an EVP at a vet practice is even more vital given that it’s a very female dominated profession, says Dr Michael Paton, member of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) Veterinary Wellness Steering Group. “As a female dominant profession, flexibility in job arrangements and hours is absolutely critical because maintaining people in the profession is one of the key issues for the profession as a whole, not just for each individual practice.

“Forty years ago, it was still a male dominant profession, but we’ve undergone a fairly rapid transition to a female dominated one. Now when I talk to students, it can be between 80 to 85 per cent female,” says Dr Paton. 

As a female dominant profession, flexibility in job arrangements and hours is absolutely critical because maintaining people in the profession is one of the key issues for the profession as a whole, not just for each individual practice.

Dr Michael Paton, AVA Veterinary Wellness Steering Group

Practices are getting creative with their rostering explains Shannon Wood, managing director, S8 Expert Recruitment Solutions in animal health industry jobs. “A lot of people are doing a full week in four days. So they’ll do 10 – 12 hour days, four days a week, and have three days off.

“With the increase in female vets, it’s important they are able to return from maternity leave with a flexible approach to rostering to accommodate them. Such as doing one day a week or three mornings,” she adds. 

A 2021 study by Adelaide University published in VetRecord looked at the sources of pleasure in veterinary work. “Sources of pleasure in veterinary work include experiences in demonstrating professional expertise, recognition from clients and colleagues and positive outcomes while building relationships with clients, colleagues and patients,” says Dr Michelle McArthur, Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Science and senior author on the study. 

These findings are being echoed in the national psychological safety training pilot program currently being undertaken by the AVA’s THRIVE program. The program is an industry-led veterinary wellness initiative that aims to support veterinarians and veterinary staff to lead satisfying, prosperous, and healthy careers. “The three things that seem to be coming out as the biggest hazards and risks for practices at the moment are high job demands, lack of reward and recognition and poor workplace relationships,” says Dr Paton. “Working on those things is really important. Not just for the day-to-day productivity of places, but it has a trickle-down effect on staff turnover and how staff interact with each other.” 

“Formalising collegial support is essential,” says Dr McArthur.  “This may be peer-to-peer support/supervision, and/or mentoring. Regardless of experience, all staff need these types of workplace relationships to build skill and capacity.”

Having consistent feedback mechanisms is also important, adds Dr Paton. “That could be in the form of personal and professional development plans, job shadowing and personal acknowledgement of jobs well done.”

Sources of pleasure in veterinary work include experiences in demonstrating professional expertise, recognition from clients and colleagues and positive outcomes while building relationships with clients, colleagues and patients. 

Dr Michelle McArthur, University of Adelaide School of Animal and Veterinary Science 

“Celebrating success, however that may look, is important for recognition,” agrees Dr McArthur. “Managers could consider how this may apply in their workplace.” 

To tackle the issue of high job demands Dr Paton suggests improving consultation with staff when planning and monitoring workloads. “Actively discouraging a culture of overwork is also important,” he says. “Try and discourage cultures in workplaces where people skip breaks, and that’s seen as a good thing for the practice. We should be encouraging people to have healthy work habits.”

Given the importance of healthy and positive workplace relationships to happy and thriving staff, practices might consider introducing regular team building events, suggests Dr Paton.

And this doesn’t just apply to relationships between colleagues. The results of the 2021 study by Adelaide University found that developing expertise was one of the factors that made veterinarians feel good at work. “Expertise includes veterinarians’ experiences of communicating effectively with clients so providing staff with the opportunity to build upon these skills is important,” says Dr McArthur. 

“There are sometimes opportunities for egos to get in the way like there is with any sort of highly skilled profession,” says Dr Paton. “I think establishing behavioural norms, and having anti-bullying policies, grievance processes and codes of conduct in place are all positive things to try and create a harmonious, positive workplace which ends up being a productive workplace,” he continues. 

“The bottom line is that thriving, psychologically safe, healthy workplaces are much better in terms of productivity, animal health and welfare and for the communities that we deal with and the profession in general.”

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