Asserting authority: how to avoid being taken advantage of as a practice manager

Practice Business explores how practice managers can reduce their risk of burnout by advocating for themselves and being more assertive in their role

Practice managers are incredibly busy. On any given day, you might be a juggling a thousand competing priorities: preparing for the latest QOF inspection, wielding patient complaints, attending impromptu meetings about practice premises, answering a never-ending stream of emails, investigating a GP’s query about whether the flush on the toilet is working properly…

The point is, GP burnout gets lots of media attention, and rightly so but, in such a highly pressurised environment, practice managers often carry the entire weight of the practice and its smooth running on their shoulders – and more.

Unfortunately, the practice manager role can be seen as a ‘catch-all’ position – the person in the practice to go to when literally anything needs evaluating, sorting, re-evaluating, re-sorting. In some ways this makes the practice manager a super-hero; in other ways, it makes you susceptible to being (albeit accidentally) used and abused.

So what can you do when you feel the pressure piling up alongside all those medical documents, bills, complaints and proposals to sift through? How can you enforce your role as a medical manager, and not the person to mend every last scrape your practice sustains – no matter how superficial?

1. Realise that people are more capable of solving their own problems than you think

When someone comes to you, flustered, with a problem – your instant reaction may be to drop everything to help them solve it. However, if there is someone bending over backwards for their employees all the time, staff may become complacent when it comes to their own ability to be proactive. However, most problems have a solution staff are perfectly capable of finding on their own. Of course, if someone has a genuine dilemma that needs managerial guidance, prioritise this but don’t feel guilty for encouraging employees to find their own solutions before running to you immediately for help.

2. Ask the practice partners to advocate for you

If you feel other practice staff are unaware of the responsibilities of your role, and what is appropriate to ask of you, speak to your practice partners. Once they understand your concerns, you can call a practice meeting to discuss with other staff what can be done to ease the excess workload being piled on top of your to-do list.

3. Organise practice staff socials to network and integrate your staff

Other practice staff may not truly understand your role and how much you do for the practice.Organising socials, fun down-time which you can participate in together as a practice ‘family’, can help others to get to know you, what you do, how vital your role is, and learn to respect you.As well as creating a more pleasant work environment for all, putting employee satisfaction at the centre of your practice management can help beat the ‘big bad manager’ stereotype sometimes permeates organisations.

Jubilee Street practice manager Virginia Patania recently won ‘healthcare leader of the year’ at the General Practice Awards. She dedicated her award to her practice team. “Traditionally, healthcare has always been shaped around the patient which, of course, is fundamental, but equally fundamental is work that focuses on our staff,” she said, and went on to say she felt her greatest achievement has been “generating enthusiasm and investment to increase joy in the workplace.”

The key to being a successful practice manager is exactly that – creating an open, respectful, safe, friendly, productive and, ultimately, joyful practice environment in what can be an highly pressurised field.

4. Say ‘No’ more often

You’ve probably heard this one before. An entire book, written by Damon Zahariades, has been dedicated to the delicate art of dismissing others and reclaiming your time. Yet saying ‘No’ is something we are rarely naturals at. Part of allowing yourself to say ‘No’ might be devising a list of the duties you think are core to your role – and then evaluating whether someone’s request fits under one of these; if it doesn’t, or is better dealt with by another practice employee, signpost the person elsewhere – such as to the IT manager or a practice partner. Saying ‘No’ is a way to conserve your energy and avoid burnout; an art worth perfecting.

These tips will help anyone struggling with burnout or an unfeasible amount of pressure in their role. Never be afraid to reach out for help and remember to take time to relax when you need it most because you do a lot – and you deserve to feel appreciated, respected and enthusiastic about your practice.

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