Returning to Work After a 'Mare'


Jane RVN veterinary-nurses, Veterinary Surgeon

A baby is not the only reason for a career break….

The issue of retention of vet nurses in the industry and in particular in clinical roles is an issue being discussed right now. VN Futures as well as many large Vet Nurse employers are all keen to try and provide working environments that can offer some flexibility to those returning to work. This is important as while returning to work after having a baby has some level of protection in law if you have had time off for poor health or caring for others there may or may not be protection for your role.

Changing landscapes

It’s probably not too dramatic a statement to say that society is changing and this has an effect on how employment needs to work for employees. While maternity or paternity leave is still the most recognised reason that you may have a break from work and need support when returning we are also likely to need a break for our own health, or for caring for others.

How are you protected legally

While there is a protected status for those returning to work after maternity or paternity leave you may not know that there is legal protection for some aspects of accessing flexible working (check out an earlier blog) there is also some protection for you depending on your situation.

If you are returning to work after a period of ill health you may have some protection under the Equality Act 2010. If you have a ‘substantial’ or ‘long term’ mental or physical health problem then you have some employment protection under the Equality Act – it’s well worth checking out their definitions as you might be surprised what is protected.

Carers also have some protection under the law so again it’s worth checking your rights in the work place.

Managing the change

It’s often assumed that you’ll fit straight back into your previous role and into your place in the team. While this sounds as if it’s pretty easy it’s worth noting that things change for both you and at your employer if you have a break from working.

If you are in a clinical role there is always the worry that you’ll lose your skills -  I can assure that you really won’t! Something’s you’ll need to refresh but on our skills journey we move from competent to expert in our every day skills very quickly and often without realising. You may move back to competent or proficient instead of expert – but you’re still safe!

Our vet nurse training helps us decide when we are safe to work with our patients and where we can seek help. If you’re unsure about your skills then ask to shadow colleagues on your return or maybe line up some relevant CPD.

In your absence the team may have changed and the team dynamic probably has changed. That’s not that there isn’t a space for you it’s just that when you weren’t there things have happened, new ‘in’ jokes been formed and you’ll need time to fit it again. It might be worth a session with your line manager to go through the significant things that have happened. It’s also worth there being a team meeting on your return so everyone can talk through your return. It’s a quicker way to catch up with the whole team and you’ll also get to see how the team has been working together.

Emotional impact

Even if you have a protected right to return to your previous role the emotional impact of returning to work shouldn’t be under estimated. It’s best to be honest about your time off and returning to work. You don’t need to tell people everything, but you can let them know what your boundaries for discussion your time off are and how you are feeling.

It’s ok to not be 100% ok with being back at work. It’s part of your journey and only you know how you feel. Others can help you if they understand where you are and how they can help. You may not want to be client facing at first or to deal with euthanasia’s or situations that will stress you. While we can’t fully predict your workload on your return the tasks of most risk or stress can be minimised.

Always remember Vetlife are there to help – free, confidential, supportive. Give them a call, it can help.

Self care

As part of your journey back to work you will need to make sure you practice great self care – whatever that is for you. I have used tai chi as a way to try and be ‘active’ without stressing myself and while it can take time to find your ‘thing’ when you find it you’ll know. Whatever you need make sure you prioritise time for it once you’re back at work. It’s VERY easy to slip back into your old lifestyle, but things have changed, you have changed and it’s a ‘new normal’.

Income protection

My final words on returning to work are that it might be a good time to check your finances – they’ve probably taken a hammering so could you benefit from income protection? Depending on the policy it will pay out of you are unable to work. There are numerous different polices so as part of self care make some time to find out which ones could be best for you.

Breaks in your career are not to be feared – they can be for many reasons and they are part of a normal and varied life. Returning to work, either your previous employer or a new one is part of that journey and you want it to go well.  There are things that you and your employer can do to ensure this and hopefully this blog has let you see that support for returning to work is not just for those who have had a baby.

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