Navigating “Work-Life Balance” and Retention in the Veterinary Field: Insights from an Industry Leader

  By Michele Silverman  |    Tuesday April 23, 2024

Category: Expert Advice


“Work-life balance” is not merely a buzz term; it's a fundamental aspect of supporting the well-being of your employees, and ultimately, aiding in their satisfaction. This creates an environment with the tools needed to sustain long-term success – allowing your organization to thrive as a leader within its industry. 

However, the journey toward achieving work-life balance, or what I like to refer to as “life-first balance,” is not without its challenges. By addressing the root causes of these obstacles through tailored retention strategies that prioritize well-being, organizations can endure and foster a culture of support, ultimately enhancing retention rates. In professions like veterinary medicine, practitioners often experience long hours, emotional stress, limited resources and trauma exposure – factors that can impede retention and contribute to burnout. In fact, 48.3% of veterinarians listed mental health and work-life balance as driving factors for resignation, per the American Veterinary Medical Association 2023 Census of Veterinarians. 

Importance of the Life-First Approach 

At its core, the quest for life-first balance requires a concerted effort from all parties. As human resource professionals, the responsibility of this important cause falls to us. We need to continue creating workplaces where individuals feel valued, supported and empowered to lead fulfilling lives both inside and outside of work.

A healthy work-life balance is at the cornerstone of fostering employee well-being, which includes having opportunities to pursue personal interests. This is particularly crucial for individuals navigating various stages of life, such as parenting, where accommodating schedules can significantly alleviate stress and enhance job satisfaction. From an employer perspective, this approach helps foster a culture of inclusivity and support. Understanding the need for balance transcends generational differences, no matter an employee’s job level or position.

This approach leads to happier employees who put their best foot forward each day – leading to organizational success for the practice and its people. 

Strategies for Embracing Life-First Approach

Finding the approach that works for your organization involves developing an understanding of your industry’s unique needs and challenges. Within the veterinary profession, many pet care providers struggle with managing their mental health – stemming from long hours, emotional stress and the demanding nature of their role. Effective strategies to consider include: 

  • Leading by Example: By encouraging seasoned veterinarians and local leaders to model healthy working habits, employees are given a strong behavioral leadership and better understand that putting life-first is not only allowed, but encouraged. 
  • Wellness Initiatives: Recognizing the impact of the veterinary profession on well-being, prioritizing health through support offerings and incentives can cultivate a workplace culture conducive to wellness. Implementing programs like fitness challenges, nutrition education, and mental health support promotes the life-first mindset, benefiting both employees and employers.
  • Flexible Scheduling: Allowing for flexibility within work scheduling offers employees the freedom to balance their personal and professional lives effectively. 

Additionally, seeking feedback and measuring satisfaction among employees offers an opportunity for an organization to identify areas for improvement and adapt to the evolving needs within, and outside of, the workplace. Regular evaluation ensures that strategies remain relevant and compelling.

These strategies transcend veterinary practices and can be applied across industries and fields. By prioritizing employee well-being and flexibility, organizations can cultivate a productive and successful workplace.

Factors Influencing Veterinary Retention

While work-life balance remains a top priority for employees in a variety of industries, veterinary retention is also influenced by persistent challenges like burnout, the competitive nature of the field, changing market dynamics and strict non-compete agreements. Over half of professional veterinarians report high levels of burnout, with a shocking 70% having first-hand experience with colleague suicide, proving the true importance of implementing these strategies. 

Retaining talent in the veterinary field requires navigating the competitive landscape and market dynamics. With only 32 veterinary programs in the U.S., veterinary school graduates are extremely sought after, and employers aim to hold onto their talent pool – commonly turning toward unfavorable non-compete agreements. 

Once you identify the factors that influence your industry’s retention challenges, you can effectively determine the best ways to overcome them. 

Overcoming Retention Challenges & Retaining Veterinarians 

Overcoming retention challenges is central to the cultivation of a positive organizational culture that prioritizes its team members; however, it requires long-term employer commitment. In addition to adopting a “life-first approach,” encouraging autonomy, continuing education, providing mentorship and recognition initiatives, and engaging in philanthropic endeavors have also proven to boost morale and retention. 

  • Encouraging Autonomy: Laying the foundation for autonomy in the workplace leaves employees with a sense of empowerment, leading to increased motivation and contributing to a more dynamic working culture. At VIP, we protect the existing culture and legacy of veterinary clinics. This strategy involves granting localized autonomy, allowing them to tailor the client experience to meet the specific needs of their patients and the professionals who care for them. This cultural alignment plays a pivotal role, allowing a sense of belonging and shared values among team members.
  • Supporting Continuing Education: Veterinarians are passionate about the animals and families they serve. Supporting continuing education is crucial for professionals to stay updated with advancements, enabling them to deliver high-quality care. Employers should provide and endorse learning opportunities to ensure professionals remain knowledgeable and skilled throughout their careers.
  • Providing Mentorship Opportunities: Offering mentorship programs from established veterinarians offers a unique opportunity for mentees to tap into perspectives developed over years of experience and, in turn, allows mentors a hand in shaping the next generation of veterinarians. Mentorship programs, such as VIP’s Viva Mentorship Program, provide invaluable guidance and support, particularly for early-career veterinarians. 
  • Engaging in Philanthropic Endeavors: Participating in philanthropic initiatives instills a sense of purpose and fulfillment that fosters pride in contributing to a greater cause, helping to boost morale and job satisfaction. Align your company with a cause reflecting its values and commitment to positive impact. For instance, in acknowledgment of well-being challenges in the profession, we have made contributions to Not One More Vet, a non-profit aimed at raising awareness of wellness and mental health to reduce veterinary suicide. I encourage fellow HR professionals to identify causes aligned with workplace or industry concerns that allow everyone to be involved, fostering collaborative efforts for a positive impact.

Initiatives should be prioritized based on how they impact employee satisfaction, the driving force behind retention strategies. At the root, a supportive and inclusive workplace culture is key, combined with acknowledging the distinctive "caring nature" of veterinarians and providing avenues for emotional support and camaraderie. Our duty is to lead the charge in creating an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and motivated.

Leading the Charge 

As HR professionals, we have witnessed the transformation of the work-life balance landscape. It is no longer a concept, but a fundamental aspect of fostering well-being and satisfaction among employees. Recognizing the need for, and promoting, a life-first approach not only creates a healthier and happier workforce, but also equips organizations with the resilience needed to succeed in today's competitive landscape. By understanding industry-specific challenges and implementing tailored strategies that prioritize employees, organizations can navigate through difficulties and provide employees with culture of support and belonging – while enhancing retention rates.

The pursuit of a life-first approach isn't just about individual well-being; it's about laying the foundation for sustainable success, establishing culture and creating workplaces where everyone can flourish— both employee and employer. 

Previous Page
Article Search