We have had a bad week at work – we recently lost a highly competent practice nurse and she is not being replaced. This leaves our nursing team seriously depleted. Yet patient need remains as great as ever and we of course don't want to let our patients down. The two of us who remain continue to cope, but by Friday we both felt fit only for spending the weekend collapsed in bed!
This started me thinking about work-life balance, and wondering why we as nurses are so bad at it. Our work is highly responsible and demanding. We work long hours, often without proper breaks, and in the era of evidence-based practice we must also spend our precious personal time reading journals and updating.
Of course we gain much satisfaction and self-esteem from our work, but this is often at personal cost. And in our efforts to take good care of patients, how often do we take time to look after ourselves?
In the caring professions everyone is under so much pressure to give more and more. It is well known that the NHS could not survive without the goodwill and unpaid overtime of its workforce. But think for a minute about how you would advise a patient in the same circumstances? Shouldn't you start treating yourself as well as you treat your patients?
The Department of Trade and Industry define work-life balance as "adjusting working patterns so that everyone can find the rhythm they need to combine work and their other responsibilities and aspirations." Are you confident that you have found that rhythm?
One of the keys to successful work-life balance is recognising personal boundaries. You are entitled to value yourself and address your own needs. Failure to do so will impact on how effectively you are able to work.
Recently I came across an interesting concept: "The Wheel of Life". This tool is often used by life coaches to help you work out how balanced your life is. Divided into eight segments each representing one area of your life – job, family and friends, health, wealth, fun, relationships, community and spirituality – and it enables you to think about how much time and attention you are giving to each one, and how satisfied you are with all of the areas. Charting out my own wheel helped me recognise the areas that I have been neglecting. My wheel was quite uneven - no wonder my life sometimes seems like a bumpy ride!
Isn't it time NHS employers were obliged to look after employees' personal needs and provide us with the tools to help us lead more balanced lives? What about providing access to a mentor? The ways to achieve a better balance may seem simple and common sense, but perhaps some of us need help to get going.
So now is the time to refresh and focus more on life outside work. As the ad says – "because you're worth it!" And when you look after yourself you are better able to look after others.
Must go now – I'm off to join that yoga class!!
Your comments: (Terms and comments)
"Thank you for this article. I am currently 'regrouping' and analysing my own work-home balance and have begun to realise that I have no balance. I work as an advanced nurse practitioner both in hours and out of hours, provide clinical supervision for nurse practitioners and am currently working myself into the ground - any help re this ellusive balance would be greatly appreciated" - Karen Dukes
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