Optometrist survey reveals shifting workplace priorities following COVID-19

A survey carried out by Talentshed revealed that over half of respondents had seen a change in their employment status due to the pandemic

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A survey by optical recruitment company Talentshed exploring the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the optometry workforce has highlighted changes in workplace priorities and how optometrists feel towards the future of the High Street.

The survey was launched to help understand the short and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the workforce and wider industry, with over 400 optometrists from a range of practice environments taking part.

Considering how optometrists felt about the future of High Street optometry, 32% reported feeling positive or very positive, while 38% report feeling negative or very negative, rising to over 50% for locum optometrists. The key reason for this was identified as the impact of limited work opportunities faced by locum optometrists at the time.

Exploring how practices have responded to the challenges of COVID-19, 46% of optometrists reported feeling positive or very positive in how their employer adjusted, with 24% reporting feeling negative or very negative. Respondents felt hospitals or specialist clinics had adapted best, followed by independent practices, then large multiples.

The survey looked at changes in employment during the lockdown, finding that 57% of optometrists had seen a change in their employment situation due to COVID-19, with locums making up over 70% of the figure.

As a result of COVID-19, 31% of locum optometrists in the survey felt they were more likely to consider employed positions in the future.

The survey also looked at what key factors are most important in a job role, and how workplace priorities have changed. Salary came out as the single most important factor (30%) with flexibility and working hours second (20%), followed by job stability (11%).

Just over half of optometrists (56%) shared that their workplace priorities have changed due to COVID-19. Asked whether key factors of employment have become more or less important as a result of COVID-19, 81% of respondents shared that physical working conditions have become more important to them. This was followed by job stability, with 77% of optometrists highlighting this, and salary, with 65% of optometrists rating it as more important due to the effects of COVID-19.

Considering where optometrists felt was the best place to work in the current market, independent practices came top with 40% of the vote. Large multiples came second with 29% of optometrists voting for them, followed by hospital and specialist clinics.

Of the just over 400 optometrists that participated in the survey, the vast majority (230) currently worked at large multiples. 90 worked in independent practice, 42 worked in a small or medium sized optical group, 10 worked in domiciliary, seven worked in an educational institution, and a further seven worked elsewhere.

Looking at the longer-term implications of the pandemic, the survey found 51% of respondents had considered leaving the profession as a result of the impact of COVID-19. Of those who had considered leaving the industry, 40% identified a clear time frame of when they are aiming to leave (ranging from 12 months to five years or more).

Calling optometrists the “lifeblood” of the industry, Rob Mould, founder and managing director of Talentshed, said understanding the view of High Street optometry, impacts to employment and the changes brought about by COVID-19 is critical, “particularly as there could be long-term ramifications for the industry.”

Mr Mould believes the data indicates that a significant proportion of optometrists may be reconsidering their future in the industry, and that many are also likely to be reconsidering their priorities when choosing a job and employer.

He added: “Above all else, it’s clear that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the world of optometry.”