SPVS Congress 2024 – FLEXEE Workshop/Panel: “Flexible Working: Learnings from Jigsaw Practices”

The recent SPVS Congress was a great success. Inspirational speakers, interesting discussions and, of course, an incredible party. 

XLVets and Flexee have a long standing relationship – working together to enable XLVets veterinary practices to successfully implement flexible working in order to make the profession more sustainable for those working within it. 

Despite the highs, SPVS was not without its challenges. Sarah Armstrong, Flexee’s Human Resources and change management expert, completely lost her voice. Andrew Curwen, CEO of XLVets kindly stepped in, leading a compelling discussion reflecting on jigsaw working in veterinary practices.

Our panel comprised: 

  • Aidin Walls MVB MRCVS and Alison White BVSc MRCVS, both of whom are vets and Company Directors at Broad Lane Vets, Coventry
  • Rachel Day BVSc MRCVS, Clinical Director and Julie Eastham, Practice Manager, at Cromwell Vets, Huntingdon
  • Kate Allen, Managing Director and Tracie Dunn, HR Manager at Hook Norton Veterinary Group, Oxon. (a big thank you for a last minute stand-in for illness-stricken Drove Vets of Swindon) 

A jigsaw practice is one where clinical and/or non-clinical employees are working a wide variety of working patterns, hours, locations and even roles (the ‘jigsaw pieces’) – the majority of which are non-standard.

Key takeaways from our panellists:

Organic Evolution: This arrangement usually develops organically, driven initially by the changing needs of existing employees. However it can also arise from the specific requirements of the practice, for example to increased cover during peak times.

Proactive communication: You don’t have to wait to receive a formal flexible working request. Encourage ongoing, open dialogues with your staff, for example during performance reviews, to understand their needs and preferences. Explore whether these can be accommodated proactively.

Retention and motivation: Jigsaw working enhances staff retention and motivation, enabling staff members to manage work alongside personal commitments more effectively. Although difficult to adequately express in a job advert, jigsaw working aids recruitment. Our panel even found it enticed previous staff members to return, reducing training time significantly. And even though a new recruit might not necessarily need flexibility at this point in time, knowing it’s an option later is an attractive prospect. 

Reciprocity in flexibility: Accommodating flexible working requests fosters a culture of goodwill within the practice. This in turn leads to employees willingly taking on occasional extra or alternative hours, resulting in ‘give and take’ both ways.

Management and resource investment: Successful jigsaw working requires dedicated management and resource investment in order to manage complicated rostering. However, despite the associated costs, it proves more cost effective than paying overtime, locum hiring or frequent recruitment. 

Internal Communications: Establish effective internal communication and continuity strategies in order to accommodate the multiple working patterns present. This includes overlap for job share and part time employees, handover books, regular huddles held on different days of each week, weekly email updates to all staff and monthly socials with work updates. Try, wherever possible, to ensure that catch- up/comms meetings are in [paid] work time.

Staff involvement: Be brave. Engage employees in decision making processes surrounding how the practice is best staffed. Honesty and transparency pays dividends.

In summary, embracing jigsaw working in veterinary practices is not a passive process. It requires strategic planning, dedicated rota management and effective communication. However, in the midst of a recruitment and retention crisis, it paves the way for a more sustainable future for the veterinary profession.

Enter your username and password to log into your account