Branch partner Andy Buchan. Image: Medivet
Now more than ever, health and well-being is a topic that is at the front of everyone’s minds.
It is widely recognised that the veterinary profession can be, at times, an incredibly challenging and stressful, but hugely rewarding, profession to work in. In July 2020 Vet Times reported that the risk of suicide in vets is considerably higher than the general population: 3.5 times higher among female vets and 2.1 times higher for male vets – the statistics are shocking and the devastating impact wide-reaching.
Add the negative impact COVID-19 has had to the already alarming statistics concerning mental health within the profession, and it’s likely we are facing an even bigger issue. MIND’s autumn research shows that of more than 16,000 people, more than half of adults (60%) and more than two-thirds of young people (68%) said their mental health got worse during lockdown.
The UK’s median absence rate has also risen, so that the typical employee now takes 6.4 days off sick each year (Source: Personnel Today, Sept 2020).
The health and well-being of existing and future colleagues is critical to our business. It is imperative we create an environment where people feel safe, cared about and have any necessary support in place when they need it.
With this priority in mind, late 2019 saw us undertake a comprehensive review of every aspect of health and well-being within the organisation to help us better understand what challenges we face and where our focus is needed.
What did we do?
Working with an external consultant, we looked at areas including our absence rate, the reasons for absence, absence policies and procedure, our occupational health offering, our EAP usage and effectiveness, health and safety training and processes, mental health support and challenges, benefits and anything else which might impact our colleagues.
We also signed up to The Mental Health at Work Commitment, as we recognised its importance as we move forward as a business. The commitment is a simple framework that is based on the Thriving at Work standards (Farmer/Stevenson review 2017), pulling from the pledges and standards that are already out there, using up-to-date research from both UK employers and mental health experts. Signing up to this commitment demonstrates our very real intent to make a difference not just within Medivet but across the wider veterinary industry.
The review provided us with valuable insight that has helped us shape a robust and industry leading health and well-being strategy, designed around the needs of our colleagues.
Our health and well-being committee
For us, it was important to enable a wide range of colleagues to provide valuable input into our health and wellbeing strategy, and our Health and Well-being Committee enables just that.
We set up a nomination and self-nomination process and the interest was considerable across the company. Each of the 16 committee members chosen demonstrated a real passion and desire to try and improve the health and well-being of everyone in the Medivet family.
Head veterinary nurse Amy Zuber (pictured) wanted to join this committee to share her industry insight. She said: “I’ve worked in various roles and had many life changes that, at times, have affected my career. I strive on being fair, organised, and happy in my branch, and I want to focus on improving and helping others across Medivet.”
For branch partner Andy Buchan, he wanted to play a part in making a change. He said: “We have the best job in the world, but it can take its toll. I believe we should do what we can to lessen that. That’s why I joined, so I can contribute to a culture where we all thrive and work together to reduce the effects of the inevitable stresses from our roles.”
The committee held its first meetings in Autumn 2020. Throughout the course of those initial meetings the objectives and purpose of the committee were defined and cemented, members had the chance to meet, and, importantly, the findings of the comprehensive health and well-being review were shared. Once all of the data available was summarised and feedback collected from committee members about what was directly impacting the well-being of their peers, the committee collectively agreed on the priorities and focus for the year ahead.
Launch and things to come
It has been just a few months since the committee first came together and we are very excited to be launching the initiative across the business.
Our clinic, support centre, and field-based colleagues will receive the news of our health and well-being committee launch (as well as a small gift they can nurture) on “Blue Monday” (supposedly the most depressing day of the year) – it was unanimously agreed that this was the right day to launch, as this gesture could go a long way in brightening everyone’s day.
Giving people the tools to support their own mental health
It will come as no surprises that one of the biggest priorities is going to be our approach to mental well-being. Along with providing education for all colleagues throughout 2021, we will also be launching a dedicated mental health app. Developed in conjunction with 87%, the app will be fully customised to our needs and will provide all colleagues with easy access to mental health support tools.
Giving access to lots of useful articles and exercises the app also has a unique tool to help individuals measure their own mental fitness score on a regular basis, helping identify triggers that impact on mental health and providing tools to address these triggers.
The app was trialled positively by the committee, and they will play a key role in encouraging engagement and take-up across the business when it is launched in February 2021, following final development.
87% tells us that:
- Research shows that 2020 was the most stressful year in history for the global workforce, in line with economic insecurity and uncertainty. Well-being scores across 87%’s users have dropped (meaning poorer mental health) in this area by 16.5% from March. Scores are currently 15% lower than they were at the same time last year and men aged 36-45 are the worst affected.
- Fatigue has risen sharply – half of all user’s report having less energy than usual and women are reporting being significantly more fatigued than men.
- Loneliness was another issue over the festive period, although not for everyone. Men aged 26-35 struggled the most with the current situation and the lack of interaction, indeed this group is particularly susceptible to loneliness, even if they have a healthy social network or circle of friends, as they may feel unable to confide in them. Their data shows how this is a serious issue, with men reporting feeling lower levels of emotional support in their lives in recent months, whereas this has improved in women.
Over the last 12 months we’ve had a considerable focus on the health and well-being landscape within Medivet and we are looking forward to formally launching the committee and implementing the identified priorities with our colleagues in the coming weeks and months and seeing the positive impact they have.
However, this is just the start: health and well-being is far from a tick box exercise and we’re not looking for quick wins. We’ve already identified a number of big priorities for the coming year, including the introduction of a champion network later on in 2021 and we will keep focusing on the critical behavioural change needed to really make a sustainable difference to our colleagues’ health and well-being, as we all work together on this critical subject that impacts us all.
2020 has shown us all just how precious our health is and with the pressure of a global pandemic on top of the day-to-day challenges we face in the industry, the wellbeing of our dedicated teams has never been more important.
2021 is set to be an exciting year and one where we hope we will positively impact on all of our colleagues.