Will A Growing Gig Economy Provide An Agile Workforce And Dream ‘Workstyle’ In Veterinary Medicine?
This three-part series by Dr. Theresa Entriken briefly explores why and how an emerging drive for on-demand, high-skills talent could apply to the veterinary profession.
The Veterinary Practice’s Role In A Gig Economy
Strategic business planning includes finding new ways to compete for talented team members.
Despite your practice’s long-established, extended hours on three weeknights plus Saturday, your doctors and veterinary nurses/technicians have rarely had an open appointment for the past eight months.
Is this a revenue dream come true?
Your entire team is booked until the week after next. Your client service representatives have had to turn away long-time clients with sick pets. Clients who now feel deserted, and must search for an opening at an unfamiliar practice, or head to the emergency specialty hospital.
You’ve also had to refer your urgent surgery patients elsewhere because your surgery suite is booked for the next five weeks. Your veterinary nurses/technicians are overextended.
This dream is taking a nightmarish turn.
Still, you have an available exam room because your associates and nurses/technicians need their well-deserved, rotating days off. You’re wondering: Is it time to hire another full-time veterinarian and a veterinary nurse/technician? Will I be able to find candidates? Do we need to extend our practice hours to four evenings a week and a full day on Saturday?
If this scenario sounds familiar, your experience may be similar to that of many colleagues. An AVMA survey shows that compared with 2019, 46% of practices reported revenue increases of 1% to 25% in 20201.
Banfield Pet Hospital—with more than 1,000 hospitals across the US, Puerto Rico, and Mexico—saw a 9.2% and 12.4% increase in juvenile dog and juvenile cat veterinary visits, respectively, in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a Banfield press release. This represented the first increase of this type at their hospitals in 10 years. The press release also shared that Banfield Pet Hospital had about 500,000 more pet visits in 2020 than in 2019, which was in part attributed to telemedicine and enhanced digital services2.
Today you may be wishing you could tap a magic button and summon another veterinarian willing to fill your empty exam room an hour from now. Someone you can depend on to see your loyal client who just called because his 15-year-old cat is straining in the litterbox.
Does A Magic Veterinary Fulfillment Button Exist?
During this past unprecedented pandemic year, your strategic business planning gave way to implementing stringent COVID-19 health safety protocols to stay afloat, then turned to extinguish appointment ‘fires’ sparked by increased pet adoptions and enhanced stay-home pet parent attentiveness.
How can you better position yourself to hold an even keel for your next unprecedented business surge (or slump)?
Perhaps on-demand, ‘gig’ veterinary services could help you keep up, extend your client base, and shield you from the inflexibility of long-term commitment that can come with hiring full-time team members.
Gig work allows employers to hire freelancers to complete specific tasks or jobs, rather than commit resources to find, train, and retain talent as full-time employees. Gig workers are most often associated with ride-hailing and food delivery services coordinated through a digital platform—an app or website— that consumers use on demand.
Veterinary practices already benefit from ‘gig pros’ by farming out specific tasks or hiring consultants for crucial business needs. Veterinary locum/relief work is a well-established example of gig work, and platforms and agencies offering these services have evolved to better help practices and relief professionals connect through technology.
A few examples: GuavaVet and The Vet Service internationally; Vet Locums and Carlton Professional Veterinary Recruitment in the United Kingdom; and Relief Rover, IndeVets, Roo, and Action Vet Tech Services in the United States.
Other tasks that veterinary practices contract out or may hire for temporarily include website design, accounting, practice management training, leadership coaching, social media marketing, computer system maintenance, educational content creation, telemedicine services, concierge surgery, mobile/housecall veterinary care, and in-home pet hospice and euthanasia.
So, What Has Changed?
While on-demand labor isn’t new, the Tina Brown-coined term gig economy entered the lexicon in 2009. It’s also called the sharing economy (and sometimes called the hustle economy), and it has been growing and expanding at a steady pace, although it’s challenging to track.
Official measures by the U.S. Commerce Department of the gig economy and the precise numbers of gig workers are elusive. The numbers may take into account certain independent contractors, sole proprietors, and anyone who is an on-demand/digital platform worker or a day laborer3.
According to an ADP report, from 2010 to 2019, the share of gig workers in U.S. businesses has increased by 15%4. A Gallup survey conducted in October 2017 estimated that 36% of the U.S. population works in the gig economy, using gigs as either a primary source of income or as a supplement to other work5. As of February 2018, 4.4% of the British population worked in the gig economy6.
In the past year, the tragedies and necessities of the COVID-19 pandemic have seemed to fuel accelerated growth of the gig economy, with more unemployed workers signing on to complete on-demand tasks.
Victor Valcarcel, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Economics at the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas offers tempered insight on the gig economy’s growth trajectory:
‘A conjecture on my part, but I’m not convinced that the labor market disruptions associated with COVID-19 especially increased gig work in a dramatically different way from where the trend was going before the pandemic. Yes, for example, perhaps demand for personal shoppers has exploded, but I imagine this space is populated by Uber drivers who can no longer find a fare. I’m not saying it is a complete wash, but it dampens the rocketing we might expect to see in these trends.’
Delivery Drivers Are Wonderful, But They Can’t Evaluate My Client’s Cat
Alongside the pandemic-sparked demand for grocery and restaurant-prepared meal delivery, the demand for project-based, high-skills gig work—that performed by scientists, editors, lawyers, marketing specialists, designers, and even corporate executives—has been quietly and quickly proliferating, according to Building the On-Demand Workforce, a November 2020 Harvard Business School report.
Leading companies are beginning to recognize they can enhance their ability to compete by strategically building a flexible workforce, rather than hiring freelancers or consultants primarily in urgent situations. 60% of leaders stated it was possible that their future core workforce would be much smaller and that they would prefer to rent or borrow talent from or share talent with other companies7.
Long ago (in 2016!), Gerald F. Davis, Ph.D., Professor of Business Administration and Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan shared these insights in his book The Vanishing American Corporation:
1.’The web and mobile phones greatly lower the costs of coordination and collaboration.’
2. ‘Today, the parts of a business are like interlocking plastic bricks that can be snapped together temporarily and snapped apart when they are no longer needed.’
3. ‘Coordinating activities used to be the corporation’s strong suit. Now the corporation is increasingly out-maneuvered by alternative forms of enterprise that are more flexible and less costly.’
4. ‘The shift from careers to jobs to tasks corresponds to a change in the shape of the corporate economy.’8
Perhaps a growing, decentralized world of gig work, with greater reliance on freelancers will also directly affect the veterinary profession.
The next article in this series ‘Why a flexible workforce could work in veterinary practices’ looks at how and why veterinary practices may benefit from similar hiring strategy adjustments.
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1- ‘Report offers insights into COVID impacts on veterinary practices ….’ 3 Mar. 2021, https://www.avma.org/javma-news/2021-03-15/report-offers-insights-covid-impacts-veterinary-practices. Accessed 12 May. 2021.
2- ‘Banfield Pet Hospital® Data Shows Increase in Care for Pets in ….’ 11 Jan. 2021, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/banfield-pet-hospital-data-shows-increase-in-preventive-care-for-pets-in-2020-despite-pandemic-301204809.html. Accessed 12 May. 2021.
3- ‘Measuring the Gig Economy: Current Knowledge and Open Issues ….’ 30 Aug. 2018, https://www.nber.org/papers/w24950. Accessed 12 May. 2021.
4- ‘ADP Research Institute® Report Reveals the Gig Workforce is Filling ….’ 4 Feb. 2020, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/adp-research-institute-report-reveals-the-gig-workforce-is-filling-a-void-in-the-tight-labor-market-300998593.html. Accessed 12 May. 2021.
5- ‘What Workplace Leaders Can Learn From the Real Gig Economy.’ 16 Aug. 2018, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/240929/workplace-leaders-learn-real-gig-economy.aspx. Accessed 12 May. 2021.
6- ‘Characteristics of those working in the gig economy – NatCen Social ….’ http://natcen.ac.uk/our-research/research/characteristics-of-the-gig-economy/. Accessed 12 May. 2021.
7- ‘Building the On-Demand Workforce – Managing the Future of Work ….’ https://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/research/Pages/building-the-on-demand-workforce.aspx. Accessed 12 May. 2021.
8- ‘The Vanishing American Corporation by Gerald F. Davis …’ https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/575064/the-vanishing-american-corporation-by-gerald-f-davis/. Accessed 12 May. 2021.