‘I love social work but returning from annual leave should come with a health warning’

The chaos that awaits your return from holiday can be testing but I wouldn't swap this job for anything, writes a social worker

Picture: Image broker/Rex Features

By a children’s social worker

Social work is a profession where stress levels can be dangerously high, so getting a break and some annual leave is vital to our wellbeing. However, having just come back from holiday I’m reminded of just how daunting the return to work can be.

I’d had two weeks in Spain with great food, great beaches and the occasional jug of Sangria. While a cold, wet British Monday morning was doing its best to ruin my revitalised state, I felt fully recharged and was ready to tackle any crisis or dilemma that came my way. Then I walked into the office. Suddenly, holiday became a very distant memory.

“Are we glad to see you, all of your cases have kicked off,” was how colleagues greeted me. I logged into the computer. There were 200 emails to sift through but before I could start, the phone started ringing. By the time I had been out to deal with numerous crises  – including a teenager who had assaulted their mother, a child left with a parent who was deemed a risk to children and three new case allocations – I still hadn’t made a dent on the emails.

As I went from case to case, my conscience kept reminding me of the unread messages. When I finally got the chance to check my watch it was almost time to go home.

I did manage to get back to the office and read a quarter of the emails. There was a combination of messages from parents and professionals asking for a call, information on cases being shared via professionals and management information about training and new procedures etc. Then I saw the message that all social workers dread – ‘your mailbox is full’. I’d be interested to know how many of my colleagues have been tipped over the edge by that message.

Getting home that night it struck me that while annual leave is vital, and all social workers need it, it should also come with a health warning. The chaos that awaits when you return is certainly one of the most challenging and testing aspects of the job.

Yet, despite the pressures, I really wouldn’t change my career choice for anything else. I love my job. It reminds me of the first clapped out car you buy after passing your driving test – although it causes you no end of stress and sleepless nights, you can’t help but love it and don’t want to part with it.

Ultimately, with social work, it is the sheer challenge and unpredictability of the job that keeps me coming back for more each day.

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