Achieving a better work-life balance

Posted on 26th September 2019

Before you attempt to redress your work-life balance, reflect on the current situation. That’s the advice from Dental Protection’s Dr Simon Parsons

Do you have a lack of satisfaction in your work; a feeling that work is a tedious pursuit devoid of meaning?

Perhaps you are – dangerously – engaging in a competitive space with co-workers and colleagues. “Why does X have more patients than me today?” “Why didn’t I earn Y dollars today, even though I was so busy?”

These thoughts breed a sense of discontent, as we measure our achievements either against a standard that isn’t necessarily important (another’s performance) or is perhaps too narrow (what about how much of a difference I made to my patients, even if I didn’t earn so much today). Our cognitive behaviour impacts on our well-being, and maybe we don’t always need to alter what we do so much as alter how we view it.

If we are simply spending too much time at work on tasks we don’t enjoy, then reducing time at work may help.

Here, we might achieve a greater harmony through rewarding leisure pursuits so that, on balance, we feel fulfilled and have a sense of well-being. Time might not be the issue in this case, but how we view that time spent, and what we spend our play/rest time doing, when it isn’t possible to change our work situation for now.

As health professionals, we encounter significant stress at various stages of our work lives. It is critical in my view to regularly have some time out from work. An annual holiday is a wonderful thing, but does it come around often enough? Can you wait until next January to rest? If we don’t rest frequently enough and reward ourselves for our hard work, then there’s a real risk of getting into a place from which it is too hard to recover.

Ask yourself why you can’t set aside one weekend a month, or even one weekend a quarter, when you either take a Friday or Monday off (to make it a long weekend) or, as a worst-case scenario, simply ensure it is a patient-free weekend. Go for a long walk by the beach, see a play, hop on a plane to see your favourite team compete interstate. Treat yourself and make it something for you to look forward to. Set these mini-breaks aside and mark them in your calendar as untouchable.

By ensuring periods of recovery occur regularly, it is more likely that balance or harmony will occur. Use a little time during these breaks to reflect and recalibrate your worklife later if you need to.

Another option is to mix things up. Spending too much of your working week at one place doing one role can be repetitive and predictable.

In my own worklife, I’ve usually found having two or even three roles throughout the working week or fortnight a lot more challenging and rewarding. Spending time across two practices, or a day a week teaching at a university clinic, or perhaps doing some locum work, can all keep work fresh and more interesting. While this isn’t possible for many, it may be possible for you. If you haven’t tried it, why not give it a go? I’ve found that I don’t yearn for more rest when I’m enjoying a mixture of worthwhile work activity.

Further, the opportunity to mix with different colleagues/students/patients throughout the working week adds interest and broadens one’s horizons. It can also enable a sleep-in on some days or other variations to your routine, which can be helpful.
Finally, ensure you look after yourself while you are at work. Keep yourself hydrated and make sure you take a break for a bite to eat at least once in each shift.

I try to go for a walk at lunch to clear my head and get some sunshine on my skin. Others who I know take a power nap in the dental chair with the door closed. This unpaid time is “your” time so use it wisely to do something which gives you joy or improves your sense of well-being. Don’t whinge around the lunch table about the quality of the dental bibs or the number of FTAs!

Looking after yourself during the workday means you are less prone to fatigue and the sense of work taking over your whole life. Daily balance can assist with your overall balance and harmony.

To find out more about Dental Protection’s risk-management workshops at ADA House in West Perth, visit their website.