Breaking the ‘stress cycle’

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 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.

The practice manager occupies a central position within the practice; the onus often falls on you to take responsibility for the wellbeing of colleagues – from clinicians and nurses to administrative staff. However, although preoccupied with taking care of others, you must not forget your own wellbeing.

Under pressure

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 – it’s a very big 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 which practice managers are responsible for; practice managers carry a heavy responsibility within their role to do the right thing for practice, patients and staff. With limited resources available, support networks beyond your practice can be a source of information, advice and access to additional resources.

For example, there are several GP practice manager networks available to you. Through these networks you can engage with long-standing practice managers who can share experience and knowledge around effective business management practices and also share their insights into managing people and alleviating 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) offers an opportunity to discuss specific problems, gain alternative insights and benefit from an external, confidential perspective; it lifts the weight off the individual by helping them to make a connection. Mentoring is not the same as a counselling session; rather, it is a way of voicing your concerns and talking through issues, teasing out innovative, practical solutions with someone who is familiar with your situation.

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Connecting people

Most practices are close-knit environments; developing a practice culture that is teamwork-orientated, and which 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 on 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 value, across the organisation. A member of your reception team might be social media savvy – can they manage your social media presence? What information might they need in order to do so? Think laterally and get people working with each other on wider practice problems.

Invest in your people as people

Viewing people independently of their roles adds a human dynamic and can lift people out of 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 – not just by job title. This goes a long way to restoring work-life balance and promotes a more 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 out beyond the practice to access support networks, but also 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.

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