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You’ve Heard of Work-Life Balance, But What About Work-Life Integration?

Rocks balancing on top of each other on the beach representing a work-life balance.

Balancing your work and life shouldn’t be rocket science.

According to a recent survey carried out by BEVA and BSAVA, 43.2% of vets said they are likely to look for a new job within the next 24 months. Moreover, almost 10% claimed they were considering leaving the veterinary profession altogether.

One of the key causes of disenchantment: not having a work-life balance.

This is a damning indictment for the veterinary profession. Why are vets not achieving a work-life balance? How can we change things to ensure you do not bounce out of the profession altogether?

Well, perhaps it starts with changing YOUR mindset. You’ve heard of work-life balance, but what about work-life integration?

What is Work-Life Integration?

The term ‘work-life integration’ is promoted by institutions such as UC Berkeley instead of ‘work-life balance’. The idea is that the term work-life balance suggests that work and life are in binary opposition, and can put pressure on employees to achieve an elusive balance, that, in practice will be different for each individual and will vary from day to day.

‘Work’ is part of ‘life’, so why not embrace this?

Work/Life Integration is an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define ‘life’: work, home/family, community, personal well-being, and health. 

Ultimately, work-life integration is all about flexibility: creating flexibility at work to allow you to tend to your personal life (family, community, personal well-being, health), and flexibility at home so you can dedicate yourself to work during busy periods.

And therein perhaps, is the rub for those in service professions such as veterinary medicine. Animals don’t get sick at times of our choice. So how can we evolve our thinking to help engage more positively with our careers?

How Can I Achieve Work-Life Integration?

Take Advantage Of Technology

Lockdown during the pandemic has opened our eyes to the flexibility virtual communication can offer. You can now have virtual consultations, team meetings and even prescribe medication virtually. It is more than likely that some of these practices will be maintained after lockdown is completely eased.

Taking advantage of technology could allow you to work from home more often and could encourage increased communication with clients.

Negotiate Flexible Arrangements With Your Boss

Achieving work-life integration does not mean you cannot set boundaries. Consider what is important to you: picking up your child from school, other family commitments, your community project, your general well-being (all of these should be important to you). Use these as grounds of negotiation to create a flexible working pattern with your boss.

And if you are the boss, there may be a big advantage in going back to the drawing board and designing jobs that appeal to different but complementary segments of the employment market. Working parents may desire flexibility and the shorter hours that consultations provide, whereas strongly career focussed vets looking to acquire high levels of qualification may prefer a higher caseload and more time in theatre. Could there be a synergistic arrangement where all can win?

Perhaps you could integrate your community project with your job. Veterinary practices are a major part of any community. You could get the rest of the team involved or even create blog posts on the practice’s website.

Manage Expectations

Work-life integration is far more realistic than work-life balance because it follows the ebbs and flows of the everyday demands we encounter. Especially as a vet, is it impossible to expect that you will not have extremely busy days – a multitude of emergencies, a midnight callout, and a one to one with your boss. But, there will also be less busy days that allow you more free time.

Being flexible and adaptable, something you will become used to as a vet, requires you to manage the expectations of your family and your boss. Make it clear in advance that you must be home promptly on the night of your partner’s amateur dramatics performance (or whatever). Similarly, take one minute to communicate with your family if you are having a busy day. That way, they can put the macaroni in the oven a little bit later, ready for your return.

Remember, you are doing one of the most important jobs in the world. Sometimes, this will demand your ‘free’ time. At other times, however, there will be opportunities for flexibility. Make sure you harness these by communicating and negotiating with your employer.

Pay Attention To Your Wellbeing

Achieving work-life integration is critically linked to your well-being. If you feel yourself getting stressed at work, take a 10-minute walk if you can. If not, a 5-minute meditation break could be all you need as a midday boost. Breathing techniques are not to be sniffed at and are proven to drastically reduce stress levels during a busy day.

When you do have free time, make sure you spend it in valuable ways – doing the things you love with your family, exploring new places, socialising, writing, being creative. Do whatever brings you joy. This will leave you rejuvenated and ready to tackle another day as a successful and happy veterinarian.

Disconnect from social! Seriously, social media consumption and screen time are stoking your anxiety and feelings of not being good enough. Put that device down!

And try to step away from the coalface of practice for a week every quarter if you can. 

Disconnecting and downtime from your duties allows you time to nurture the other parts of your being. Vacations help replenish your tanks leaving you ready to get back to doing what you do best – saving lives and being that important part of the community and social fabric.

If you found this post useful and would like to access our comprehensive guide to becoming a successful and happy veterinarian, why not check out our twelve-module 'So You're a Vet... Now What?' course and build a sustainable career in veterinary medicine:

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Apr 01
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