Being all things to all people

Person looking at their reflection in a shard of mirror
Do you ever feel as though you are witnessing a catastrophe, and although there is a lot of shared concern, little seems to be changing?

I was invited recently deliver a Wellbeing webinar to the Florence Nightingale Foundation, and to ‘guest blog’ for the Federation of Nursing Studies (FoNS). The common theme between both of these was the urgency for nursing staff to redirect some of their inherent giving capacity inwards, to recognise when they are entering peripheral spaces of wellbeing, and to plan to look after themselves.

I reached in, in order to awaken nurses to the message that while being ‘all things to all people’ may often drive them and fulfil the eudemonic element of the profession, it is also damages them because they fail to look after their ‘selves’

Nursing staff are not the only group of health professionals who are ‘self’ sacrificing, the recent Lancet editorial on ‘Medical professionalism and Physician Wellbeing (Sept 2021), is explicit in detailing how the systems we have set up around them, and the expectations upon them, are leading to increased mental illness and suicide.  Similarly, the recent research produced by the Royal Foundation, ‘Assessing the mental health and wellbeing of the Emergency Responder community in the UK (2020), highlights organisational stressors, (excessive workloads and lack of senior support) to negatively impact staff more than critical incident stressors (such as traumatic accidents).

Unpicking the threads that have created this toxic situation requires persistence and clear thinking, and many have voiced their concerns that unless we develop a wellbeing approach to looking after the people who work in these professions, then we are unlikely to attract people in the future.

The sensible conclusion is that we urgently need an overhaul of interrelated systems so that wellbeing of the people who work in these sectors, is protected and prioritised.

The interrelated systems I refer to include the organisations people work in, the education and training sectors that ‘prepare’ people for work, professional bodies, organisations and bodies who lend ‘support’ to burned out staff.

Starting with education, staff need to be prepared, knowledgeable and trained in how to take care of their own wellbeing in what are complex and often traumatic working environments. They need to know when they are approaching peripheral spaces of wellbeing, and know what to do to help themselves.

In the workplace there needs to be a culture of wellbeing, a gathering and synergy all of the piecemeal interventions, constructed and applied in such a way that wellbeing is first, and last. Asking and receiving help should be worn as a badge of honour and not a stick to beat those into professional shame.

People across the globe have applauded and shown gratitude like never before to those on the front line, the shocking toll on frontline staff from continuously putting themselves in the path of Covid is well reported. All of the experience we have has given us a sense of coherence, we know what needs to be done.

There is an opportunity now, while we catch our breath, to look out over the frontline terrain and do something that we all struggle with, and that is change. The change also has to be interrelated and stretch from the macro (governments and organisations) to the micro (to you and I).

We all have a part to play in ensuring that those we rely on to look after us when we can’t look after ourselves, are also looked after. While we place responsibilities on the staff to look after themselves, and interrelated systems to facilitate this, let us not forget our own contribution.  We have to look after our ‘selves’ better, we have to educate our children to do the same, we have to share responsibility with the interrelated systems to support others in our communities.

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