CASE STUDY > Work life balance
"Most people chase sucess at work, thinking that will make them happy. But the truth is that happiness at work will make you successful".
Alexander Kjerulk, "Chief Happiness Officer".
How can I get a better work life balance?
The biggest reason people leave jobs is cited as work life balance. But if you are in the medical or caring professions - you've probably worked for many, many years with an understanding that the dedication needed, can come at your own personal expense. Being seen to 'not be coping' with a role that is now part of your DNA and identity, with the accolade of being a selfless hero who seemingly walks on water, is something that doesn't come easily. Work life balance in this context is increasingly tied up with the culture at work, as well as the individual.
Managing your own work life balance, is often about communicating and sharing honestly, and without blame or fear of reprisals, what you are feeling and what the organisation needs to do to change, to support you better. Many larger organisations are changing the way they work to understand more about psychological safety and their working culture through the compassionate organisation model. The NHS is working with coaching organisations like Coaching through Covid' to create a better work life balance for everyone concerned.
Simon's Story: How a workaholic doctor allows himself to relax
Simon was a textbook case of a healthcare professional who'd worked extremely hard all his life, and was now looking around and wondering what life was all about. As a consultant at a busy city hospital trust, he was suffering along with the rest of the medical profession with post-covid backlog and the chronic effects of over-work. He was extremely resilient and focused on patient care and medical excellence despite the hospital struggling in the new VUCA world (the term for the post-pandemic world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). This had however, resulted in a wildly unsustainable work life balance, as he was mentally and emotionally on call 24/7 to respond to his patients, his team, and the hospital's ever-increasing needs.
He wanted to get a better work life balance, and avoid the damaging consequences of burn-out. He was coming into the hospital feeling resentful and depleted, with admin stacking up, a research project and mentoring medical students adding to the pressure. However hard he tried, he simply couldn't get everything done. He also felt unable to speak up, to say that he wasn't coping, to 'let everyone one down'. He was zigzagging between anxiety and depression, frustrated with work, and couldn't forget his split with his partner several years ago, despite both of them moving on and finding new relationships. He continually blamed himself with negative thoughts like '"I should have tried harder" and "I should have seen it coming". He couldn't face the relentless pace of the role and knew it was unsustainable, but simply couldn't see a way out. His crisis came to fruition when he realised that he was staying up late at night wired with adrenalin and coffee, pacing the night-time corridors and spending hours in the dark doing admin. He was avoiding going home in a self-defeating effort to prove his worth, to himself, to 'do his best or die trying'.
How to stop being a workaholic and still get things done
Coaching helped him realise that he whilst he had impossible targets to achieve, he was effectively 'his own 'boss from hell' - making himself work harder and harder - but without any feeling of achievement. The hospital constantly provided more and more patients to be seen, more and more admin, and less and less time, but rather than manage his time to restore, rebalance and make sure he was getting enough sleep or eating well, he was running on empty - with no respite in sight. He couldn't remember when he'd taken a holiday and days off were spent with his nose in research or nipping to the hospital to cover for colleagues or attend to a backlog of appointments. And it was taking its toll. Simon was unable to apply the well-known hippocratic oath's saying of "first, do no harm" - to himself. Simon's avoidance of actually going home, or getting to bed at a reasonable time, was a way of 'proving' that he was doing all he could - but at what cost? What was missing was the permission from himself to care about himself, rather than always putting the hospital and others constantly first. He had to actually see himself as someone to take care of, to look after, and 'be a patient'.
During the coaching sessions, he came to see that time management and resilience at work was more about ring-fencing dedicated time to keep himself fit and well, so he could do his job to the best of his ability. Balancing all priorities in his life, would release pressure in his life. He set up goals and focused plans to support his self-care, adding in down time, decent meals breaks, and 'desk-yoga' to help break up the long admin hours. He planned holidays, and weekend breaks, and kept to them. He came to realise the fine line between perfectionism and professionalism, and where 'getting it done' was needed rather than finessing and obsessing over details. Getting to bed on time was more important than reading an extra research paper that would add to his knowledge, but not impact on his competency as much as a good night's sleep.
The coaching was an accountability exercise to hold him accountable to himself, not just the hospital. But more than that, it gave Simon a framework to develop some resilience and not take the toll of the current healthcare crisis on his shoulders. It was the permission he needed to care about himself - as well as his patients.
“I was struggling and didn't want to admit it to anyone. I was getting obsessed with work, and couldn't see how burntout I was becoming,
or what I was sacrificing in my personal life, and my family.
Ella is professional, perceptive and insightful and helped me feel that I could deal with everything better. ”
Interesting reads & watches:
Try this at home:
Draw a clock face with 10 segments. Write in areas that are important to you, to cover all aspects of your life. The Wheel of Life here shows:
Money & Finance, Career & Work, Health & Fitness, Fun & Recreation, Home environment, Community, Family & Friends, Partner & Love, Growth & Learning, Spirituality (purpose in life).
Score each area from 1-10, with 1 being the lowest in the middle, and 10 being where you'd ideally want to be.
Add activities in each area with SMART goals to help you achieve them. Some daily, weekly monthly or even seasonly. e.g. start training for park-run every Saturday; volunteer with local charity every month.
Review each week and focus on getting the lower scores increased in all segments for a balanced life.
This is just one of many models, tools and approaches we might use in our coaching sessions. Some are from neurolingistic programming, cognitive behavioural techniques, career coach framework or positive pyschology. All are evidence-based and tailored to fit each client.