Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a topic that has become increasingly prevalent over the past decade with positive changes being made to the junior doctor contract and several initiatives being introduced across the country. But what is a good work-life balance? How can we achieve it? And most importantly, why do we bother attempting to achieve a good work-life balance?

If you’d prefer a video guide to Employment topics, check out our free “Employment Essentials” course. You can also find relevant articles covering leave, well-being, ensuring work-life balance & other employment topics here.

Doctors are under pressure and are regularly subjected to emotionally straining situations. Bullying in the workplace can make work-life balance really difficult (see our article on Bullying & Undermining for support with that). Having a work-life balance which allows you to leave these things at work and have time to enjoy yourself outside of medicine is crucial for well-being and a sustainable career. Below are some tips for how you can try to create a good work-life balance and improve overall well-being.

1) Learn how to prioritise your workload (see appendix for prioritisation tool!).
This is probably the best skill to develop early in your medical career. Learning how to prioritise your workload will enable you to work more efficiently resulting in a lower level of stress and creating opportunities to put some of our other tips into practice! For further detail on workload prioritisation techniques, see our ‘Prioritising Jobs’ article.

2) Never* miss your break or stay late.
Unfortunately, this one is impossible to put into practice 100% of the time. It is important to set boundaries and only complete tasks that either cannot wait until the next day or will directly impact on patient safety. It is important as a junior doctor that you take your breaks and finish work on time, if you find that there is a recurring issue resulting in you missing your break or leaving work late on a regular basis then you should discuss this with your supervisor and complete an exception report.

3) Always be on time for handover.
In an ideal world, everyone would be on time for handover. This can be difficult in practice, but the important thing is that you aim to be on time especially if you are the doctor receiving the handover. Your colleagues will appreciate you being there to take over from them and the roles will soon be reversed! You can find more information on handovers in our ‘Handover’ article.

4) Try to get involved in activities outside of work/medicine.
It is important to remind yourself that there is a life outside medicine. Being an active member of the mess and attending clubs or events run by them can help with this as well as allowing you to meet new people and socialise (also very important for your well-being!). If you can continue hobbies you enjoy or exercise regularly, this can be another way of improving your well-being and maintaining resilience.

5) Aim to spread your annual leave equally throughout the rotation.
Although this can be difficult depending on the on-call commitments of your job, trying to spread your annual leave can help prevent fatigue. It is important to acknowledge that an organisation should not be dictating your annual leave dates and if you have concerns regarding fixed or imposed leave then you should discuss with your local BMA representative or contact them directly (see appendix for details). Many juniors have found requesting annual leave for the day before changeover beneficial as it allows time to prepare for a new placement.

6) Be kind to your colleagues.
You are not expected to become a personal counsellor for the people you work with but creating a supportive environment amongst the team can have an extremely positive impact on the well-being of all. There will be times that are pressured, or you may have a difficult encounter with a patient, but a supportive environment amongst the team can help make the situation easier to manage.

7) Take time for yourself.
This can be particularly hard to achieve if you have a busy family life. However, regularly taking time for yourself to relax after a day at work can be a great way of maintaining well-being and ‘switching off’ at the end of the workday. Some juniors find their commute can help them to ‘debrief’ after their day, whereas others prefer to spend some time alone with a hot drink. Consider a method that can help you to relax after your working day and ensure you set time aside to put it into practice – even if it is just for 10 minutes!

8) Look after your body.
Working long shifts, having to manage situations with emotional strain and potentially feeling completely out of your depth all put physical health lower on the priority list. However, a healthy body = healthy mind is relevant here! Engaging in regular physical exercise, ensuring you have enough sleep and eating a balanced diet can ensure help to maintain well-being and a positive work-life balance.

Prioritisation Tool

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Sources of support

By Dr Chloe Crofts (Clinical Teaching Fellow in Psychiatry)

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