Taking control – the work-life balance

Sharon Howard, an administrative support officer with NHS England, uses Self Care Week as a reminder that we have a duty to look after ourselves.

For the third annual Self Care Week (18-24 November 2013) the theme is Self Care for Life – Take Control.

As NHS employees, we are encouraged to support and promote the campaign and key messages to inspire people to take control of their health and lives. What better way to do this than to lead by example?

Of course, we could cover the usual topics: diet, exercise, alcohol, smoking, but while continued promotion of the importance of these things to self-care is necessary for improving health outcomes, there are other empowering messages which do not always receive enough attention of focus.

Thinking back to my first blog post for NHS England and how we as staff are an important patient voice from within the NHS, I wanted to continue with this theme with regard to self care and think about the work-life balance.

Due to the nature of many of our roles we put ourselves under ever increasing pressures to rise to the demands of the job. In order to meet deadlines and do the best job possible we often work long hours, take our work home and work through our lunch breaks.

Doing all this is great for the job, right? Good for our career prospects, yes? But is it really? What about us? Is this healthy? Is this practising self care? Are we setting a good example? Are we taking control?

In short the answer is No.

Of course we want to do a brilliant job, and in the short term, maybe, this may mean we get things done, but the long term effects of working this way are not good for anyone:

  • Eating habits are poor as we work through our breaks.
  • Exercise is missed as we sit at a computer for excessive periods.
  • Stress levels increase as we take on more, and more.
  • Social and family life suffers as we don’t spend enough time with the people who matter.
  • Our minds won’t switch off when we do eventually stop, so our sleep is disturbed.
  • Concentration is reduced so it takes even longer to get things done.
  • We become exhausted by the long hours and lack of rest.
  • We start to feel under the weather as the cumulative effects start to affect our physical and mental health.

But, then we add insult to injury by continuing on this same path, maybe even increasing our workload as we feel we are not being productive enough. Instead of taking a much needed timeout due to not wanting to appear weak or let anyone down, and of course being off sick isn’t conducive to getting things done. So, we carry on, and before we know it we are bringing those coughs and colds we just can’t shift into work with us, a physical manifestation of a weakened immune system due to the punishment we are putting our bodies through, passing them on to colleagues as we struggle unsuccessfully to fight them off because we just won’t STOP

We keep going and going until something gives, body or mind… snap…

The purpose of much of what we do in the NHS is to improve services for patients and reduce the burden on these services by empowering patients to take control and practise self-care.

Ye t by putting ourselves under such intense pressure to meet these aims we can end up having the opposite result to that intended. Making ourselves unwell with such working practises the quality of our work and services can be undermined and decline, we ourselves can become a burden on the NHS as we need to access services to aid our recovery from having worked ourselves ill.

Isn’t it time we slowed down and practised a little self care?

Step away from that computer, take that lunch break, take a walk, chat with friends and family, go home, go to bed, sleep.

You might just find you actually do a better job and your own health will be better too. Isn’t that the point?

Sharon Howard

Sharon Howard is an Administrative Support Officer for NHS England’s Strategic Clinical Networks in the Thames Valley. She has worked for the NHS since 2010, starting as a Medical Laboratory Assistant in Biochemistry. She also worked as a Healthcare Assistant in Radiology before moving into her first administrative role in Clinical Genetics.


  1. Daryl Mullen says:

    I’d agree with much of what you say. As a GP partner though I’m expected to currently be available to patients from 8am to 6:30pm then do paperwork as well ie 11-12 hr days. NHS England wants to move more work into general practice so what is the authors suggestion?

  2. Grant Ingrams says:

    Due to various government interfernce and bashing by the press, most of my GP colleagues are now struggling with working 12 hour days, but still being told they are the cause of all the NHS problems and should work harder … Shraon, could you tell me how you are engaging GPs in your area and helping them to improve their work-life balance??