According to recent research, 53% of UK healthcare workers say that they do ‘little or nothing’ to reduce stress levels outside of work. The same study found that the healthcare sector is the third worst in the UK for not relieving stress – which seems counter-intuitive given that its focus on the health of the nation.
Practice Business explores what practice managers can do to help alleviate the pressure in general practice – not forgetting their own mental health and wellbeing along the way.
Primary care and general practice are under pressure; struggling to cope with an increasing workload due to an ageing population with more complex needs, juggling high expectations with financial limitations and a growing GP recruitment and retention crisis. Practice managers occupy a central position within the practice, and the onus often falls on you to take responsibility for the wellbeing of colleagues – from clinicians to nurses and administrative staff. However, preoccupied with taking care of others, you must not forget your own wellbeing.
Practice managers play a critical role in the practical implementation of new practice procedures and care models being developed, you are often responsible for ensuring the practice is up-to-date with changing policy and is compliant should the CQC come knocking, you manage your reception and administrative team so that they can deliver excellent patient service and manage any complaints along the way… But we needn’t remind you of your role.
Practices need increased resources to secure stronger, more effective and fit-for-purpose management to avoid this escalating workload. The responsibilities of practice managers are increasing and, as the role expands, it’s important that you have the necessary support to be able to do your job – and not be weighed down by it.
Moving in the right circles
As practices have grown so too has the workforce practice managers are responsible for and the responsibility practice managers have within the practice and to patients and staff. With limited resources available, support networks outside of your practice can be a source of information, advice and access to additional resources.
For example, there are several GP practice manager networks that you join. Through these networks, you can engage with long-standing practice managers who can share experience and knowledge around effective business management practices, but also how to manage people and alleviate stress.
There are also mentoring schemes – some available through your LMC – that can provide you with fresh insights and new support networks. Mentoring (either as a mentor or mentee) is an opportunity to discuss specific problems, gain alternative insights and benefit from an external confidential perspective. It lifts the weight off an individual by helping them to make a connection; it’s not like a counselling session, rather it is a way of voicing your concerns and being able to tease out innovative, practical solutions with someone who is familiar with your situation.
Most practices are close-knit environments; developing a practice-culture that is teamwork orientated and that shares an organisational focus is incredibly important. Practice managers are at the heart of this.
Practice staff often work in isolated silos – reception staff, nurse practitioners, GPs, etc. – which means that workloads aren’t shared. Your challenge is to get people to work with a focus across the whole organisation – especially if yours is a multi-disciplinary practice.
To combat silo working focus on developing your people, not in the existing roles they have within the practice (as receptionists, for example) but as individuals with other qualities, attributes or skills, that might be transferable or of interest across the organisation. A member of your reception team might be social media savvy – can they manage your social media presence – what information do they need to do so? Think laterally and get people working with each other on wider practice problems.
Invest in your people as people
Viewing people independent of their roles adds a human dynamic and lifts people from the doldrums of everyday working life by creating social, rather than solely professional, relationships. It encourages a united front when dealing with issues within the practice; the burden is spread more evenly and not just by job title. This goes a long way to restoring work-life balance and promotes a social, fun side to work.
A team that pulls together, supports its individual members – which is invaluable. So, when the pressure is on, you’re working on solid foundations. For practice managers, then, it’s important not only to reach beyond the practice to access support networks but to build similar networks within the practice.
Make your practice an open community where people work together, talk to and support one another. Take advantage of mentoring schemes; your LMC will have resources to be tapped into and they’ll offer pastoral and personal support too, be that in terms of mentoring, a listening ear, friendly advice or information on useful resources.
The bottom line is: establish and encourage networks of support that extend beyond the perimeters of the practice, invest in people, nurture skills and share the burden. Remember that we’re all human and sometimes just listening and quietly understanding can be enough to lighten the load and spare your colleague, or yourself, from unnecessary stress.