Work and life: How to strike the right balance

When you begin life as a newly qualified doctor or dentist you may feel up against it when it comes to striking the right balance between work and play. A demanding job can take its toll on your physical and mental health and wellbeing, with more than 40% of employees saying that they neglect other aspects of their life due to work, which increases the likelihood of mental health problems (

The standard number of hours full-time NHS staff will work is 37.5 hours, and they may be worked over any reference period e.g. 150 hours over four weeks or annualised hours. In addition, the hours exclude meal breaks, unless individuals are required to work during meal breaks then that time should be considered working time (NHSEmployers).

Work-life balance                                   

In recent times, the NHS has received large investment to improve the work-life balance it offers its staff since the launch of its Improving Working Lives (IWL) 2000 initiative (NHSEmployers). It’s been reported that the initiative has helped to reduce stress, increase motivation and improve productivity amongst NHS staff (Jobs.nhs)

It is important to remember that everyone has a different opinion on what work-life balance means, and you just need to find out what works best for you.

Importance of self-care

It may seem difficult, but you should try to leave your work at work and make the most of your downtime. It’s been proven that the more hours you spend at work, the more time you’ll spend thinking or worrying about work (

To ensure you’re at your best, make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep may lead to long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety (NHS). In addition, you should avoid relying on drinks that are high in caffeine, even if they may boost your energy and concentration for a short time as they may disrupt your sleeping patterns in the long-term.

In addition, it’s important to find time to do regular exercise and ensure you’re eating a balanced diet to look after and maintain your physical and mental health and well-being. Healthier lifestyles are also associated with better mood, improved memory and improved sleep cycle (Medicalnewstoday).

Scheduling your annual leave

Holidays can help take your mind off work and will allow you to spend some time with your loved ones. By taking a few days or a long weekend off work you’ll ensure you’re at your best when you’re in the workplace and you may find that you’ll be more productive in the long run ( Booking annual leave early or even straight after you have come back from holiday can help to give you something to look forward to. Swapping shifts with other colleagues can also help, but you should be willing to offer swaps in return whenever you can.

NHS staff working a 7.5-hour shift are entitled to 27 days annual leave + 8 days general public holidays, which increases after 5 years to 29 days + 8 days, and then rises again to 33 days + 8 days after 10 years of service. Annual leave and general public holiday entitlement for staff who do not work a standard shift will be calculated on an hourly basis (NHSEmployers). If you work privately, then annual leave and general public entitlement will be completely dependent on the contract set out between employer and employee.

Shift management

Sleep can be challenging in shift-based work, especially if you are working nights. If you are working night shifts it is advisable to sleep during the day to avoid being awake for a full 24-hour period. Sometimes staying up late the night before the first shift can help you get into a routine, and it may help to try and have a lie-in the morning before your shift and take a nap in the afternoon. Other useful tips include purchasing earplugs, blackout curtains and eye masks, as they can really help if you struggle to get to sleep in the day (Rcplondon).

If you are struggling with shift management, all NHS employees have the right to request flexible working hours. Employers are required to consider flexible working options for all staff in the workplace including staff returning to work following maternity/paternity leave or parental and adoption leave, staff with a disability or health conditions, staff with caring responsibilities and staff that need temporary changes to their employment arrangements (NHSEmployers).

All NHS Staff, with a minimum of 12 months service, should also be provided with access to apply to an unpaid employment break scheme agreed between employers and local staff representatives. The length of breaks should meet the needs of the applicant and the needs of the service (NHSEmployers).

We’re sharing some useful vlogs from newly qualified doctors and dentists which share their experiences of life after university. You can view them here. In addition, we’re sharing more tips and advice on managing your finances during and after university in our latest articles.

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