Veterinary centre group Medivet was the big winner in the Make A Difference Awards judges’ vote for making the most difference to employee mental health and wellbeing over the past year, in the category for companies with more than 500 staff.
Medivet’s awards entry caught our attention because of its innovative and revolutionary decision to move to a 4 Day Week to deal with a major issue plaguing the veterinary industry: the high attrition rate of Veterinary Surgeons (vets) due to a lack of work/life balance.
60% leave due to poor work/life balance
The organisation’s 2018 engagement survey, which flagged employee wellbeing as a main area of concern, echoed much industry data showing that poor work/life balance is a contributing factor for 60% of leavers.
“We think it’s a multifactorial thing,” says Dr Rhian Littlehales, Head of Early Careers at Medivet. “With such high pressure and intense roles, our colleagues value work/life balance highly. To address the issue, we wanted to do something a bit different, not being done in the industry, to make us stand out as an employer, as well as make a real difference.”
Initially, a 4 Day Week seemed like an insurmountable change, given the different ways of working, schedules and the 24/7 nature of veterinary care, not to mention the differences between practices in the Medivet group.
Planning & continuous feedback
“It was a real challenge as to how we would embed it within the company,” says Littlehales. “It took a lot of planning resources, design and continuous feedback”
The team quickly learnt that – in order to make a 4 Day Week a reality – the most important thing for anyone instigating this change is that you have to think creatively and have oodles of optimism
Initially, the idea was piloted in a few regions, with lots of tweaks and constant feedback, before it was rolled out nationally.
Pay stayed the same, hours dropped
Littlehales and her team realised that a ‘one size fits all’ solution could not just be applied across all practices and regions, because all face slightly different issues, and have different set-ups and infrastructures. Consequently, the national roll out was done on a region-by-region basis.
For instance, some regions have a 24-hour hospital, whereas other don’t. This affects how the 4 Day Week and weekend shifts are structured. However, what they all have in common is that, with the 4 Day Week
, pay stays the same, hours drop slightly but employees work one less day, with a more structured, consistent weekend schedule.
It took a ‘brain shift’
“We had to think very differently about how we organise our rotas,” she says. “There’s no ‘perfect’ answer because it varies from practice to practice. What was true across the board was it took a real brain shift for us to make this achievable and focus on the possibilities rather than the complications and difficulties. We had to think: how are we going to make this possible? What do we need to do?”
In the planning stages, the cross-functional effort involved resource planning, People Services, Finance and Operations. Littlehales cites the Operations function as particularly integral in getting the experiment off the ground, particularly at the pilot stage.
Optimism was crucial
Issues inevitably cropped up which hadn’t been planned for, such as when colleagues were off sick putting additional pressure on the rota. And, of course, the global pandemic threw a spanner into the operating works, too.
“But our Ops team remained so positive,” she says. “They adopted the approach of ‘we’re going to make this work’.”
The Operations team at the coal face constantly fed back to the Support Centre what was working and not working, so the approach could be iteratively tweaked.
The power of continuous feedback
“We chopped, we changed, we amended, we looked at the way things were impacted… and we closely monitored the business outcomes – measures like absences.”
Feedback was also continually sought from the vets themselves.
“We were constantly saying to them: how can we make this work or work better?” says Littlehales.
While the business was largely positive to the idea, there were also sceptics across the organisation doubting whether a four-day week could work in practice.
The power of communication
“This is understandable; many others have tried to achieve it before and it’s not worked,” she says.
Communication was key. Regular evening briefings, Zoom calls and ‘town hall’ style meetings were held. For instance, colleagues who had experienced the pilots spoke to the rest of the company about their experiences, sharing details like how they used their extra day, which varied from hobbies to life admin. Culturally, it’s normalised the subject of flexibility, and employees’ desire for it, making it much more embraced company wide.
While anecdotally the four-day week has been extremely well received, its success has been hard to measure due to factors outside the company’s control, which have impacted staff morale, such as Covid-19 and Brexit.
Hard to measure impact
“Showing improvement is really difficult,” says Littlehales. “The profession is still on the occupation shortage list. However, our 4 Day Week has been a huge driver for attracting new recruits, especially graduates.”
This is particularly significant given that research shows that it’s the younger employees like recent graduates for whom worklife balance is most important. Industry research shows that 45% of vets leaving the profession have been vets for less than four years and 21% for less than a year.
“This has shown us that flexibility is key to keeping our colleagues happy,” says Little Hales. “And we’re excited to look at building on this.”
Medivet was handed this award at The Watercooler Event yesterday, for winning its category. Independent Assessment Services, Poundland and Philip Morris International received runner-up awards for being highly commended by the judges.