Work Like a Woman

Work Like a Woman

With International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day falling on the same weekend this year, we felt it was only right for this month’s blog to be a celebration of Girl Power. 

The feminisation of the veterinary workforce has continued to gather momentum in recent years. 34% of respondents to the 2000 RCVS survey of the veterinary profession were female, which rose to 58% in 2019. This trend is set to continue with the proportion of female new UK practising registrants rising from 67% in 2017 to 77% in 2021(RCVS Workforce Summit 2021). 

A study of 32,748 of Dutch women between the age of 15 – 45 reported that presenteeism accounts for a massive 9 day loss of productivity due to menstrual symptoms every year (BMJ Open, 2018). 81% of women in the study reported presenteeism during their period and said that they were less productive as a result of their symptoms. 

Chinese Olympic Swimmer, Fu Yuanhui made the headlines in 2016, not because her team came fourth in the 4x100m medley relay, but for breaking the taboo and publicly acknowledging a drop in her performance due to her period. 

So why as women are we still trying to work like men? The classical 8am – 6pm model is based around the daily rise and fall in testosterone that men experience, not the average 28 day female cycle. As vets we’re all familiar with reproductive cycles in animals and used to manipulating them to our advantage. So why can’t we learn to optimise our own performance?

Your cycle is your superpower. 

Follicular phase

Menstrual: The beginning of your follicular phase, oestrogen and progesterone are low. This is when most women report unwanted side symptoms such as lethargy and cramping. Your superpower? Organisation. Plot, plan and set the tone for the rest of the month. “Me” days or personal days are common practice in other professions. If they exist in your workplace, this is a really good time to utilise them. 

Proliferative: As follicles develop, oestrogen levels rise. You’re high energy, less emotional, uber productive and multitasking like a boss. So plan that big meeting and climb those big mountains because for the next few days you’re on fire. 

Ovulation – Your peak. Ultra articulate, super confident and energetic. You have so much to give during this short lived phase. For female leaders, this is when to plan your one to ones. You are at your most warm and empathetic and have the motivation to action the points raised. For an employee, this is when you should lean in to those difficult conversations. Negotiate that pay rise or flexible working request with ease. Record podcasts, host webinars. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve. 


Luteal phase 

Secretory: Post ovulation, oestrogen is falling and progesterone is on the rise. Although your energy levels drop, your metabolic rate is higher, so if you want that extra snack, have it. This is where you are likely to experience symptoms of premenstrual syndrome so be kind to yourself. Your superpower during this phase is creativity and thinking outside the box. Use this time for marketing, branding and strategy. Work remotely if you can, get some fresh air, breath. However lots of women report a short burst of increased productivity just immediately prior to their period. 

So, to do list: 

  1. Start by keeping a diary and tracking your cycle moods each month. 
  2. Look for patterns
  3. Plan your work diary as best you can to play to your superpower during that phase. 
  4. Learn to dodge bullets. 
  5. Take over the world.

Your cycle is your superpower. Focus your femininity. Harness your hormones. Work like a woman. 


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Ode to Red Pepper

Ode to Red Pepper

Every Wednesday for the last four years, I have wrestled my tiny humans into waterproofs and made our weekly pilgrimage to, what can only be described as, parental utopia.

Run by the wonderful Robyn, The Red Pepper Project is essentially a gardening club for minis, set in the gorgeous grounds of an organic farm. But it’s so much more than just gardening. Come rain, wind or high weather, the Red Pepper glitterati are out in force. From carefree summer days spent running around eating delicious treats foraged from the raised beds, to seeking refuge from the rain in the tropical poly tunnel.  When asked, I refer to Red Pepper as holy ground.

I have always made the best Mum friends at Ped pepper. Like minded, hardy individuals, who value fresh air, delicious cake and good coffee. But over the past year, there’s been a shift. There has been a rise of the lesser spotted, Red Pepper Dad. 

But on closer inspection, these are not just any Dads, these are in fact vet dads! And they don’t just show up, they’re crushing it. They play, they plant, they plait hair, they wipe noses (and bums) and have exponentially improved my Red Pepper experience. 

News has spread about the joys of Red Pepper around the vet practices of the county. We now have small animal director vet dads, team GB equine vet dads, farm vet dads and even a team GB farrier dad to boot. In fact, we’re pretty well set up for most animal related emergencies within our little organic gardening haven.

Pic: Everything gets very thoroughly watered.
Raspberries on tap
Tree Climbing Essentials

It’s a common misconception that flexible working within the veterinary profession is reserved for women juggling family life. In fact, since 2010, the largest increase in those requesting flexible working has been in men. In the past 13 years, the number of men requesting flexible working has more than doubled from 8% to 17%. Whereas the number of women requesting flexible working has remained fairly constant. (BVA, 2022)

Did you know that a recent study found that fathers who worked flexibly were more likely to take on caring responsibilities? The 4-day week pilot, 2022 studied 2900 people, from 61 companies, across different industries over 6 months. It revealed that the time men spent looking after children increased by more than double that of women (27% to 13%) when they adopted a 4-day week. (4-day week, 2022)

Unfortunately, the same wasn’t true regarding the share of housework, baby steps, eh?

The Government’s equality office’s behavioural insights team found that although equal numbers of men and women wanted to work flexibly to spend more time with their children, men were less likely to do so. 

In their study, they investigated the influence of social norms on behavioural change. They found that simply by telling men that the majority of their male colleagues supported parental leave for fathers, they boosted the intention to take longer leave by 62%! 

Other positive outcomes were that high levels of support for men to work flexibly, encouraged other men to plan to work flexibly in the future. It also increased men’s support for other men to do the same. A wonderful positive Daddy Daycare feedback loop. 

Until we live in a world where it’s celebrated for men to share caring responsibilities, we will never have an even playing field for all.

Are you a father working flexibly? Fly the flag for flexible working. Normalise it. Talk about it in the pub. Attend a playgroup during your non-work day. And in doing so, you’ll cultivate a culture where future fathers in your practice feel it’s socially acceptable for them to do the same.

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Spotlight on Drove Vets

Spotlight on Drove Vets

Danielle Bowers, lead client care associate at The Drove Veterinary Hospital
Kayleigh Walker, lead client care associate at Drove Vets Stratton

Following on from our incredible panel discussion at SPVS on Flexible Working – learnings from Jigsaw Practices, we chatted to the lovely Danielle Bowers and Kayleigh Walker from Drove Vets about their “floating receptionist” system. 

A jigsaw arrangement  is one where the majority of employees work non-standard working hours. The model is increasingly becoming one of the most popular manifestations of workplace flexibility in UK veterinary practices. 

We discussed how their jigsaw practice operates, the benefits, the barriers and what it takes to implement the model successfully. Our discussion highlighted the importance of flexible working practice wide, not just within clinical roles. 

Drove Vets is a large, independent, mixed practice, with 6 branches. They have over 100 team members in total, including 35 veterinary receptionists, spread across 6 sites. Drove Vets are also a member of the XL Vet Group.

Danielle Bowers, the lead client care associate at The Drove Veterinary Hospital, has 7 year’s experience at Drove Vets. She is also a British Veterinary Receptionist Association (BVRA) council member. 

Kayleigh Walker, the lead client care associate at Drove Vets Stratton, has worked at Drove Vets for 8 years. She is currently junior vice president of the BVRA and will be taking over the role of President in March.  

What does “jigsaw” look like in your practice?

We have 35 receptionists across all sites, 3 of which we refer to as “floating receptionists”. The working patterns of all of our receptionists are extremely varied, with almost all being different from one other. We have everything ranging from part time, full time and weekend only roles, spread across all of our sites. We have staff that start at 7:30am, those that finish at 08:00pm and everything in between. We aim to adapt our roles over time by regularly speaking with our team members, then adjust their shift timings to benefit them, the team and the practice. 

The “floating receptionists” are not situated at any particular site, but able to fill any of our receptionists’ roles to cover holiday, sickness and any other needs. We have one full time float receptionist and two part time float receptionists. The ‘floating’ roles enable those who can’t work fixed hours to have the option of a varied shift pattern allocated 6-8 weeks in advance. For example, we have some floating receptionists who have shifts on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, opposite to floating receptionists who are allocated shifts on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. With these additional team members, we are able to increase flexibility for both the floating receptionists and the receptionists based permanently at sites. 

Mainly a mix of full time and part time roles, we increase flexibility by having 3 ‘float receptionists’. These members are not situated at any particular site, but able to fill any of our receptionists’ roles to cover holiday, sickness and any other needs. We have one full time float receptionist and two part time float receptionists.

Who these apply to e.g. just vets/receptionists, everyone

This model applies currently only with our reception team.

How long have you had these arrangements in place? How/when did it start?

A ‘floating receptionist’ has been a role we’ve had in place for over 10 years, (before Dani and Kayleigh’s time at Drove), but has been adapted over the last few years to better fit business needs as well as our team members’ needs.

What role do you play (in managing/supporting the jigsaw arrangements)?

Kayleigh ensures that all receptionists are sent regular rota updates and that our floating receptionists have at least 6 week’s worth of rota’s so they are able to plan and organise. We both manage holiday requests as well as medical appointment requests and bereavement leave etc. This means we can continuously monitor the rota to ensure that we are able to keep all roles covered at all sites.

Both Kayleigh and I are responsible for managing any staff changes, advertising any upcoming roles, interviewing candidates and training new team members.

We also carry out regular ‘1-1’ meetings with all receptionist team members. These are a casual and private catch up giving each team member some time and safe space to discuss if there is anything they need from us as employers and a business.

This way, we can be proactive with our team, increase flexibility when needed and build staff retention, increasing both teamwork and efficiency.

Why did the practice move in this direction – what were the drivers?

There were two main drivers for us to support, encourage and adapt our ‘floating’ roles. These were staff retention and recruitment.

Finding suitable candidates, who could commit to set days and hours to suit the business needs, decreased our candidate list. It meant we often had to overlook applicants that had valuable veterinary receptionist experience, in favour of those who were able to commit to the time we needed. We found this increased the number of new team members leaving as the role requires more skill than they anticipated.

The role of a vet receptionist can take years of experience to master, in a fast-paced environment. It requires a multitude of skills and vast knowledge, usually impossible to learn in the time given by most practices for training. We have found it to be far more beneficial for the practice and team, to work with our receptionists needs, including flexibility where possible.

"we are more conscious of the need for flexibility and its consideration when planning rotas or hiring new team members."

Was it a conscious decision or did it just emerge this way?

The role of a floating receptionist was in place before we joined the practice, in order to cover holidays and sickness within the team. It was not however utilised or adapted to increase flexibility until the last few years.

We first started to think about it when we were asked to adapt a role by one of our receptionists, who needed greater flexibility, a few years ago. Since then, we are more conscious of the need for flexibility and its consideration when planning rotas or hiring new team members.

(If this was a conscious change) how was the idea introduced/”sold” into the practice? Did you play a part in this?

When we discussed adapting the floating role for the first time, we found management were apprehensive. They were worried about the possible impacts on the business and the rest of the veterinary reception team. Upon further discussion, management agreed to let us take the risk. Since then, we have been given more freedom and have been able to make positive changes, encouraging flexibility for as many team members as required. By doing this, we have built a fantastic, strong team of loyal veterinary receptionists, with different skill sets and assets that they bring to the practice.

What hurdles did you/others have to overcome to get buy-in/traction?

Our biggest hurdle was when we first started to make changes, there was some animosity and jealousy from other team members. They felt they were not as valued, as we were making changes for a team member that had not been offered previously.

This made us realise that there were other team members who desired some form of flexibility but might not have felt comfortable or psychologically safe enough to raise it with their line manager. We overcame this by organising regular ‘1-1’ catch ups with every one of our receptionists and encouraging them to be upfront and honest about their needs.

"Sourcing new team members has been easier"

What are the lessons learned from the change process/journey (to jigsaw arrangement/greater flexibility)

Communicate with the other members in the team and encourage them to speak up about their flexibility needs.

Staff retention is important. Work with your employees to see how you can best match their needs, as well as the business.

Encouraging flexibility can boost morale and have a positive impact on the team. It does this by improving work life balance and making individual team members feel valued by the business. 

Sourcing new team members has been easier and we have found that most have now become loyal members of the team.

We’ve seen increased engagement from team members at work as they now have a better work life balance.

Tell us about some of the practicalities of running a jigsaw arrangement e.g. rota management, replacing a leaver who had a very particular work pattern, any extra costs involved

Rota management can be tricky with ‘float receptionists’, especially if there are no holidays to cover. Our floating receptionists have contracts that require them to work a certain number of hours per week. We have occasionally found it difficult to fulfil their contracted hours but have overcome this by allowing other team members more flexibility. They use this time to carry out admin tasks, CPD training and any other jobs you are unable to work on at a busy reception desk.

When we first adapted the float role, we split one of the full time roles into two part time roles, without increasing the number of hours the business already agreed to pay for. The only extra costs the business had to consider was for uniform, training and fuel cost if travelling between branches. We were fortunate that our directors saw the value in retaining one of our existing floating veterinary receptionists, by adapting these hours and employing another team member to take on some of their contracted hours.

To continue to support flexible working within our team, we have had to increase the number of team members employed, which meant an additional cost for the business. However, adding another receptionist has had a positive impact on team morale, reduced burnout within the team, reduced overtime costs to the business and increased efficiency. All of which has positively impacted our clients and their journey in practice.

Is there anything in hindsight you’d wished you’d done differently? Is there anything you would like to change about the set-up now you’ve experienced it?

We wish we’d have done it sooner! We have built a strong, loyal team after losing too many valued members due to hurdles that we have overcome with increased flexibility. 

Our system works well for us, especially now we have four ‘team leaders’ who are all given time for administration tasks. We are able to spend valuable time improving processes and making positive changes for both the team and the practice. We have also been able to grow the skill sets of some of our other team members by giving them additional responsibilities, as well as the time and support to complete them.

Have you seen tangible benefits from operating this way? And drawbacks?

The number of receptionists who are now completing valuable CPD training has increased, benefitting both the practice and the clients with their improved skill sets and knowledge.

Staff turnover has decreased with more team members choosing to stay a part of the team.

Saved money as overtime reduced, with more shifts covered

Increased productivity, teamwork and culture. 

One of the only drawbacks from having floating receptionists, who need a rota 6 weeks in advance, is that any annual leave needs to be booked in early. It can be tricky trying to amend rotas once all team members have been accounted for. Although, with the added man power of floating receptionists, we are usually able to accommodate any urgent leave when needed.

The SPVS Congress theme this year was “Smarter Working: Better Outcomes”, how much would you say your Jigsaw arrangement contributes to this for your practice?

Our jigsaw arrangement helps our reception team to feel valued and allows them to have an increased work life balance. By adapting hours and slightly increasing the number of team members, we have formed a strong and skilled reception team, which is now being recognised by other teams in practice, as well as our clients. 

Our reception teams’ skills are now better utilised as we have reduced the time barriers in practice with our extra team members. This has meant our receptionists can take on more responsibilities, freeing up time for our clinical team members to focus on more important tasks and improve job satisfaction.

What’s next? i.e. any further ambitions for jigsaw or flexible working in your practice

To continue being proactive with flexible working and encouraging team members to confidently discuss their needs.

We’d love to see this technique utilised in other departments and by working closely with our clinical team leaders, we can support them with any changes they make.

What’s your one top tip for any practices looking to introduce or expand a Jigsaw arrangement.

Communicate with your team! Listen to their suggestions with an open mind, even if you can’t fulfil their suggestions, you may be able to compromise and reach a middle ground that benefits all involved.

Have regular informal meetings with individual team members. Build a relationship with your team to encourage the most truthful responses. Make sure they feel psychologically safe.

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Robin Hargreaves – A Flexible Working Convert

Victoria Bakos

New Year, New Me

New Year, New Me

There’s no time like the present and no present like the time. 

With January well under way, many of us reflect on the year gone by and start looking forward to the year ahead. It’s an opportunity to re-write the rule book, an opportunity for change. With the new found energy the new year brings, we plot and plan our next moves. Annual objectives, 5 year plans, professional, personal and physical goals. 

So what are the most common New Year’s resolutions?

According to Forbes, the five most common New Year’s resolutions in the UK this year were to exercise more (40%), followed closely by losing weight (35%), improving diet (33%), financial goals (31%), reducing stress (24%) and enhancing emotional well-being.

Interestingly, many of these resolutions revolve around a precious commodity. Something that, once it’s gone, you can’t get back and the only thing you can’t buy more of. 

I’m talking about time. 

So how can we make the most of the time we have?

Flexible working means something different to everyone. It encompasses everything outside of the traditional, full time, working model. It gives employees a say on when, where and what hours they do. 

In a recent global trial of a 4 day week (a type of flexible working) found that 71% of employees reported reported less burn out, 54% reported reduced negative emotions, 46% reduced fatigue, 43% said it improved their mental health, 40% noted reduced sleep difficulties, 39% were less stressed and  37% cited improved physical health. (4 day week, 2021)

So why not gift yourself some time, start your journey towards greater flexibility today and make those New Year’s resolutions a little bit more achievable.

Need a little help? Subscribe to The Flexologist below and keep your finger on the digital pulse of flexible working.

Friend of Flexee (and Queen of productivity), Naomi from PetsApp shared her top time tips. 

Find your sweet spot: This is the time of day when you’re most productive, which is totally different for everyone. For Naomi, this is between 11:00 to 15:00. During this time she schedules her detail oriented, high energy jobs. Before this she carries out lighter tasks in order to energise her and afterwards she wraps up with low energy tasks. 

Ten Tasks: Naomi never lets her to do list exceed 10 points. She then physically ticks them off to ensure she gets that sense of accomplishment and associated endorphin rush. 

Treat time: This is my favourite tip. Once Naomi has completed her ten tasks, she gifts herself a guilt free treat. Now this is a new year’s resolution I can get behind!

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Bernice – Riverside Vet Care

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Kate Higgins – Village Vets Formby

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Jenny Hull – Black Sheep Farm Heath

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Flexible working and work-life balance – how can we ensure the grass is greener on the other side?

Flexible working and work-life balance – how can we ensure the grass is greener on the other side?

Almost 50% (41.2% to be exact) of vets and vet nurses leave clinical practice because of poor work-life balance (WLB). This is the commonest reason. And they often state that it’s because they want more flexibility in how they work. So how can flexibility help WLB and is the grass greener on the other side?

All these concepts can be difficult to define – flexible working, work life balance, workplace wellbeing – as they mean something different for everyone. One way to get around this is to have some common definitions as a stepping stone. Then, we can carry out conversations with our colleagues and discuss  what it means to us individually and better relate to others based on some common understanding.  

Having good work-life balance is often defined as a state of wellbeing that is maintained through effective management or work and non-work related responsibilities, and with minimal negative impact. While it is up to us to effectively manage our non-work related responsibilities, it is our workplace’s job to support us and help us maintain our work-related responsibilities. Figure 1 outlines the key workplace predictors and outcomes of WLB. While flexible working will not solve all of the issues, it is a growing area of interest and research as more and more employees are finding it hard to get the balance that they want or need.


Figure 1: Workplace predictors and outcome of work-life balance

Poor WLB can lead to work-life conflict. Around a third of employees say that their job prevents them from spending enough time with family or their partner (Fagan et al, 2011); and long working hours are associated with higher levels of stress (Chandola et al, 2019). 

Flexible working needs to be understood and managed appropriately by the individual and the workplace for it to work effectively. On one hand, some research suggests that remote workers can often end up working longer hours than their office-based colleagues (Cooper and Hesketh, 2019). On the other hand, some types of flexible working, such as reducing working hours, helps reduce chronic stress compared to their full-time colleagues (Chandola et al, 2019). 

From these two research study examples, we can see the complexity of flexible working and its impact on workplace wellbeing. This is why it is important to understand some of the basics of flexible working, how it is typically defined, what forms it can take, how to reflect on individual needs and boundaries. Then, a work team can come together and define and design what flexible working means for them as a team and how it can best work to maintain a sustainable and profitable practice for them to work in. 

One survey from CIPD showed that 65% of flexible employees were satisfied or very satisfied with their WLB, compared to 47% of employees who didn’t work flexibly. WLB is subjective, and what may be a good balance for someone, may not be acceptable for someone else. Nonetheless, as the name suggests, good WLB is in part created by the employer and part created by the employee. It is not only the personal challenge of the employee, but something that employers can influence and provide a range of support. 

To understand what flexible working means, to build better awareness of what it means to you, to understand the business perspective, and to learn how to negotiate a win-win for flexible working for your job, you can find resources to help you on the Flexee Hub. The Flexee Hub is a team subscription because flexible working is a team effort. 

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Still Flex Curious?

Still Flex Curious?

Covid 19 sparked a flexible working pandemic, disrupting our normal working habits and forcing many to work remotely.  Whilst the physical side of veterinary medicine cannot be carried out remotely, pandemic working has proven that we can be more flexible than we previously thought, in certain aspects of our jobs. 

When researching flexible working, it can be tricky to know where to look for information. Especially industry specific examples. If you’re flex-curious and time poor, don’t worry, we’ve done the leg work for you. 

Due to the recruitment and retention crisis facing the veterinary industry and ever increasing drive for flexibility within the profession, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons held a Workforce Summit. Separate reports were created for both veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses – Read here.

Read more about recruitment and retention. 


The British Veterinary Association created a  useful webinar with BVA Senior Vice president Daniella Dos Santos and Carolyne Crowe of VDS training exploring workload and flexibility in the workplace – Read here.


You can find general guidance on different types of flexible working and the application process on and the Citizens Advice Bureau – Read here.

Read about applying for flexible working here. 


If you’re looking for more of a human resources perspective, then you may want to check out guidance available at The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration service (ACAS) and the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) – Read here.

Read more here. 


There has been much debate recently in The House Of Commons with regards to flexible working. This has led to The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill 2022-2023: Progress of the Bill. This outlines the changes that are going to take place imminently in the application process for flexible working – Read here.

Read more here.


There have been multiple high profile social media campaigns from celebrities such as Anna Whitehouse’s Flex Appeal, helping flexible working gain prime time media attention – Read here. 

Read the final report here.


Although these resources provide some much needed discussion around the topic of flexible working, both within and outside of the veterinary industry, none of them arm you with a tool kit necessary to implement flexible working within your practice. 

Thirsty for more? Join the Flexee Hub for a step by step guide to requesting, implementing and managing flexible working within your practice. Start here! 

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