Burnout: Taking back control

‘Take back control’: a rather overused phrase in the last few years, in the U.K. anyway. A phrase that resonated strongly with the majority the English public in a referendum and one that probably still does. But perhaps this phrase no longer resonates about Brexit, for me it resonates about work, (health and care work in particular in this blog), during a global pandemic that is now 1 year old. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that it has been hard to keep on top of things, at home, in our lives, at work. Reports across the press and from think tanks describe the concerns leaders have of the fears, heartache and impact on mental health of many health and care staff over the past year, with studies showing up to 20% of ITU staff reporting feelings of suicide, concerns are raised about our children’s health and many others continue to find life hard after this dreadful, deadly, awful, seismic year of the pandemic, not just at work but at home too, where sadly most of us now have family, work colleagues and friends affected, or worse.

Overburden in the laundry 🧺

Many, many, many of us, if not all of us, feel in some way exhausted, overworked, undervalued and burnt out in one way or another. Yet there is still soooo much to do to support high quality Pandemic response and yet still do the day job on top, try to ensure patients keep getting outstanding non-covid care, keep up with learning and development, and keep making tea for the kids and reading bedtime stories, talking to isolated relatives and folding the never ending washing pile (this is the straw that breaks the camels back for me!). Whilst at the same time recognising that good times will come again and light is coming from vaccine is gradually rolling out (hurrah) and Spring isn’t far way, crocuses are sprouting up everywhere.

But then … a niggling feeling, wondering what new work will land soon, on top of all the covid work to help support recovery and new health policy implementation, even whilst pandemic response continues and there is little gas left in the tank. Where will even more energy come from? We might even think how can we help others all achieve these big national or regional goals when we are barely keeping heads above water as it is?

My former colleague Dr Sonya Wallbank’s work resonated with me on Twitter this week (17/01/2021) as she posted on different stages of burnout and how to notice that in teams and individuals (hope is ok to post this Sonya ☺️). She notes how signs of burnout might be a reduced willingness to help others outside your own team or remit and reduced reciprocal working and volunteering to help.

(C) Dr Sonya Wallbank (via Twitter)

Similarly, Prof Michael West and Suzie Bailey talk about the ABC model in their Kings Fund blog suggesting (rather like Daniel Pink in his work about motivation -> autonomy, mastery and purpose) that Autonomy, Belonging and Contribution is critical for individuals to remain resilient and thrive at what they choose to do.

I have been thinking quite a bit about how I can raise my ‘A’ game (A for Autonomy, that is) here and support more those I work with and who we serve. What that might mean for me, what small steps can I take everyday to try to help me manage in this unprecedented situation and also help my team and those around me? When people reach out and need help, how can I ensure they get it? And how can I try to prevent that arising through support to begin with? What will help me take back control and autonomy? What might help others?

One way, I’ve been thinking about this is in our work to really consider how we build our version of a Responsive Improvement model, our variant of a quality management system. How can we take all the amazing different functions of quality work that do different assurance, checking, inspection, measuring, audit and change work into the next phase of development and think about where are the frustrations in all these tasks? Where do we work in silos as individual teams, instead of collaboratively as a strong collective? What are the rocks in the shoes for all involved in these tasks, that leads to waste, defects, errors, frustration, overburden, burnout and a lack of control? What, together, could we do about that to reduce the overburden and take back control of our daily work lives in healthcare? Even in a global pandemic.

Our first step…. drawing on inspiration from our friends over at 15s30m… what are the small things that everyone could do to help each other everyday, how can we put that kindness back into work and supporting each other by removing everyday frustrations? Together, through this, we can create capacity and energy for the inevitable new asks as we recover from this pandemic, by working better together and at the same time build something stronger, less burdensome, less exhausting and more rewarding for ourselves and the people whom we serve. Improving, and learning together.

Let’s see what we learn as we take our next steps towards eliminating burnout and taking back control.


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