Would we be better doctors if we looked after ourselves more effectively? Would we be better colleagues, employers, parents and friends if work did not leave us feeling like we had been dragged through a hedge backwards?
Health and wellbeing at work has risen up the agenda internationally, as it is increasingly recognised that improving the wellbeing of working individuals and workplace communities has significant benefits for staff, employers and service users. In health care, there have been several studies confirming a relationship between the wellbeing of healthcare staff and the quality of healthcare that patients receive. 1,2,3
Public Health England promotes the national Workplace Wellbeing Charter, which is endorsed by NICE. The charter ‘is a way of showing your commitment to the health of the people who work for you’, providing a framework on how to make workplaces safe and productive places to work, and an award to aspire to.
What this means in practice
Some areas have regional variations on this award. For example, Carnon Downs Surgery has taken part in Cornwall’s Workplace Health Award.
Alison Hunt, their assistant manager is brimming over with passion for promoting staff wellbeing, and enthusiasm for the transformation the award catalysed for them.
She described her former self as an overweight work addict, who was always putting others first, and now ‘I am fitter and stronger and more centred - I will not take on someone else's bad day - so I can cope better with problems, and patients’ and colleagues’ demands’.
The process of working towards the award strengthened her commitment to looking after herself and investing in her staff. ‘We thought we were a friendly, fun team all enjoying our jobs, but it brought us all together.’
The main investment required was time. Together, all staff wrote a code of health and wellbeing, then each initiated a taster session of a health-related activity. Some involved learning - about how to deal with work stress, and preventing back problems, and others were more sociable and active, such as joining a choir, going on joint walks and picnics, and growing vegetables outside the surgery. They also mapped out walks they each did along the coast of Cornwall, with the aim of walking the entire coast, section by section.
Describing the impact of the work, Alison says: ‘The service has to be better if the staff are well and coping with their own lives, they can then understand and even empower each other and give good service to the patients.’ She also emphasises how attractive the award makes the practice to potential recruits, as it shows they invest in their staff.
Other wellbeing initiatives
Kernow CCG in Cornwall has also worked steadily over the past three years to engage their 270-plus staff in a variety of wellbeing initiatives. Creative thinking and collaboration with other organisations has enabled NHS Kernow to give their staff pedometers, to encourage walking meetings, to bring in mindfulness training for leaders, and communication skills to enhance open and productive working relationships.
By pushing wellbeing at work up the agenda, they say they have achieved ‘fantastic results’ both on an individual level, as well as through changing organisational culture. Of course there are obstacles, mainly staff feeling too busy to take a break for something healthy, and for others, an identity shift is needed to see wellbeing initiatives as ‘their thing’.
So, returning to the questions posed at the beginning of this article: YES! We would be better doctors, colleagues and companions if we took steps to look after ourselves with more care.
So isn’t it time to show that – as health professionals - supporting health and wellbeing is ‘our thing’, starting with ourselves and our teams? Where is the wiggle room to improve wellbeing in your practice? What could you enable together that would improve the health of you and your team?
- Dr Jennifer Napier is a GP in London an honorary research fellow at Queen Mary, University of London where she has researched wellbeing and workforce issues. She is also the founder of Contextualyse, a consulting company focused on supporting organisations to create healthy workplaces
- Anagnostopoulos, F et al. Physician burnout and patient satisfaction with consultation in primary health care settings: evidence of relationships from a one-with-many design. Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings 2012; 19(4): 401–10.
- Halbesleben, J.R.B. & Rathert, C. Linking physician burnout and patient outcomes: exploring physicians and patients. Health Care Management Review 2008; 33(1): 29–39.
- Maben, J et al. 'Poppets and parcels’: the links between staff experiences of work and acutely ill older peoples’ experience of hospital care. International Journal of Older People Nursing 2012; 7: 83-94.