Recent analysis has uncovered that the number of people leaving the NHS because of a poor work-life balance has almost trebled in the past seven years. We investigate this further, and hear firsthand how a ward nurse from Glasgow cares for herself mentally and physically, so as to ensure that she can offer the very best of herself to her job.
While there’s no disputing that caring for others is an incredibly worthwhile and satisfying
job, it’s also an emotionally demanding and often physically exhausting one.
Between June 2010 and June 2011, 3,689 employees stated that a poor work-life balance
was the primary reason they had stopped working for the NHS in England. In June 2018, this
figure (covering the previous 12 months) stood at 10,257 – that’s an increase of 178% 2 .
Feeling the strain
A large proportion of those who left were nurses – with the number quitting because of a
poor work-life balance rising from 1,069 to 2,901 over the course of just seven years 3 .
Colette Neeson, a ward nurse from Glasgow, explains: “Burnout tends to be associated with
people in high-pressured corporate roles. Like investment bankers, traders or management
consultants. “But over the course of my nursing career I’ve seen far, far too many people who’ve had to take time off owing to stress. Others opt to leave the field entirely, which can be a huge loss of talent"
“I’ve felt those stresses myself over time, but I’ve been lucky recently to find an employer
who truly understands the need to strike a really healthy work-life balance. We’re also
encouraged to air any problems or concerns that we have on a regular basis with
supervisors. Personally, I’m a big believer in talking as therapy and getting things off your
chest. It’s a cliché but after one of these sessions I feel as though a weight has been lifted
from my shoulders. It prevents me from mentally taking my work home with me, too.”
Knowing when to slow down
“Taking sick days as and when you need them is crucial, too. You can’t afford to be a martyr
in this industry. If you’re unwell or feeling wiped out, stay in bed. You’ll only make the
situation worse for you, your colleagues and patients if you insist on trudging into work.
“What do I do to keep mentally and physically healthy? I move my body as much as
possible. This is going to sound really daft to some people, but if I’m feeling low I stick on my favourite music and have a dance, even just by myself. Any fans of Grey’s Anatomy might be familiar with this concept…
“I also try to spend as much time outdoors as I can. Given my line of employment, this can
be quite challenging but I’ve found ways to make this work for me. Literally the first thing I
do when I wake up is go and stand outside for five minutes. It’s a great way to wake yourself
Identify where you get your energy from
“Once I’ve got my first blast of fresh air, I meditate – even just for three or five minutes. This
was by no means easy for me at first, I’m not a naturally spiritual person, but there’s so
much evidence that demonstrates the positive impacts of this practice, and with all the on-
the-go zen apps that exist these days, it’s easy to incorporate into a daily routine.
“Meditation has helped me understand myself better, too. I’ve realised that I very much get
my energy from being alone. This certainly isn’t the case for everyone – I have lots of friends
who thrive on being surrounded by people all the time, but for me, downtime and my own
space is crucial. If I’m ever feeling ‘peopled-out’ I know it’s time to retreat.
My job requires a great deal of physical and emotional energy, so it’s key that I start a shift feeling revitalised. “My main tips are to get to know yourself – learn what gives you energy and what leaves you feeling drained – and accept that it’s OK to say no sometimes. Don’t overcommit socially and know that it’s perfectly fine to retreat and hunker down sometimes until you’re restored. You’ll benefit enormously from it in the long run.”
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