It is well known that employee burnout has been recognised as an emerging issue in the veterinary sector – one that has significantly impacted nearly all veterinary practices. Not only does employee burnout massively affect individuals personally, but research has shown that it is also a major contributing factor to employee turnover, absenteeism and lower productivity (Begeny et al.,2018; Clinton et al., 2022).
With workforce shortages and mental health becoming an increasing concern, veterinary employers need to explore different ways they can help to overcome this. One way to aid this is with veterinary sabbaticals and volunteering.
A sabbatical is a period of leave (unpaid or paid) away from the workplace, which is over and above an employee’s normal entitlement to paid annual leave. While usual periods of leave, such as holidays or sick leave, are commonly short but frequent absences, sabbaticals are usually one single span of extended leave, allowing more time away from the workplace in one sitting.
There are no specific laws relating to sabbaticals, and while there is no legal obligation for employers to offer them to employees, more frequent use of this provision has demonstrated the benefits these can bring.
While there is no legal obligation for employers to offer them to employees, more frequent use of this provision has demonstrated the benefits [sabbaticals] can bring
Traditionally, sabbaticals were not particularly common and were usually seen in academic environments and only for professional reasons. As employees and employers started to see the benefit of having these extended periods of absence, they have more recently been used for personal reasons as well. These have included travelling, volunteering and spending time with family.
As this provision has become more well recognised, employers in all sectors have begun to see the vast perks these can bring to their workforce. Therefore, employers are now actively encouraging their employees to make use of sabbaticals.
Why are veterinary sabbaticals helpful?
In 2019, 2.4 percent of respondents to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeon’s Survey of the Veterinary Profession were “taking a career break”. Within that pool, 13 percent were taking a sabbatical. The median career break length of those surveyed was 25.5 months, but sabbaticals can be offered for a duration that suits your practice: for example, one, three, six or nine months.
For employees, extended leave can have a host of benefits, such as career development, learning new skills, improving health and helping to refresh and recharge.
Extended leave can have a host of benefits, such as career development, learning new skills, improving health and helping to refresh and recharge
While this can be a superb way for employees to refocus, it can also, in turn, have a number of advantages for employers. This includes employees being more refreshed and motivated, having new skills and experience, and allowing them the much-needed time to recover from the growing issue of employee burnout. By keeping employees fresh and motivated and allowing them the opportunity to take time out for themselves, they will be much more likely to stay with you and feel supported in their goals.
While retaining employees and avoiding burnout is crucial in fostering a strong and healthy workforce, it is also well known that the sector is facing a skills shortage (HCRS, 2023). Offering veterinary volunteering programmes allows those who are considering this field of work to experience the environment first-hand. This can help individuals to decide whether they feel the veterinary sector is right for them, helping to reduce employee turnover.
Care should be taken to assess the impact veterinary volunteering programmes have on employment status and the ability for individuals to attend and work at your practice, such as recruitment checks and insurance.
Offering veterinary volunteering programmes allows those who are considering this field of work to experience the environment first-hand
Similar to the benefits that come with taking sabbaticals, veterinary practices are starting to see the advantages of encouraging staff to take time out to partake in veterinary volunteering programmes elsewhere, such as with specialist interest projects or overseas charity work. Not only can this help to reduce employee burnout, but it can also advance careers through learning new skills, experiencing new areas of work, meeting new people and building new connections. By encouraging this, your employees may return to the practice refreshed and with new experiences and skills under their belt.
Understandably, companies may be hesitant to offer sabbaticals and opportunities for volunteering away from the veterinary practice due to the thought of losing valuable team members for a significant period, especially given the current recruitment market. However, by taking the leap and using programmes such as these, employers will begin to reap the benefits while helping to relieve some of the pressure off one of their most important assets: their workforce.