Finding the Balance that Works for You in and outside of Work
Stacey J. Drubner, JD, LICSW, MPH
EAP – Ask the Experts: A Conversation with Oswald (Oz) Mondejar & Ross Zafonte, DO, from the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network
Now is a good time to take stock of the life Balance that Makes You Happy. The last year+ has been a hectic and challenging time. We witnessed unprecedented and accelerated transitions in the healthcare delivery system and job responsibilities. A March 2021 EAP News article focused on the increased stress on healthcare workers, generally and during the Pandemic. The Mass General Brigham community has risen to the occasion with dedication, innovation, and flexibility. Most of us lost some choice in how we lived our lives. Now we have an opportunity to take a step back and recalibrate on both system and individual levels. It is a good time to ask, “what works and what could use some adjustment?” The post-pandemic transition is an opportunity to decide on and execute the best life balance for you.
Although this article includes the concept of “work-life balance,” it is important to acknowledge that not everyone is concerned about working too much. Many of us have limitations on how much control (location, hours and responsibilities) we have at our job. Others may only want to address balance in their lives outside or inside of work, respectively. In an opinion piece, Andreas Schwingshackl, MD, PhD, offers that objective or uniform work-life balance is unattainable for some in medicine. Additionally, he registers concern that work is sometimes portrayed as “separate” from life or even considered negative in the balance.
The important thing is to have the tools you need to evaluate and work towards achieving the balance that is best for you. The right combination is unique to each person. Look for where you have control, and make changes in those areas.
Spotlight: Oswald (Oz) Mondejar & Ross Zafonte, DO - Spaulding Rehabilitation Network
System Opportunities for Finding Balance
The EAP thought it would be helpful to get relevant input from those with experience and perspective in the MGB system. Oz Mondejar, Senior Vice President of Mission and Advocacy at Spaulding and Dr. Zafonte, Interim President & Senior Vice President for Research, Education, and Medical Affairs, share concerns and offer ideas on how the workplace can help with life balance.
Dr. Zafonte and Oz have a wealth of knowledge about the healthcare workforce and first-hand views of the barriers and impacts related to balance in and outside of work. Oz self-identifies as someone who has not always achieved his desired work-life balance.
What brought the issue of life balance to the forefront?
Dr. Zafonte stressed that the well-being of every team member is important, and directly related to the ability to provide quality and innovative care. This was highlighted even more over the last year. He explained that historically there were more clear boundaries in medicine. Now, a combination of constant information flow, technological advances (EMRs, patient portals, smart phones, VPN) and patient expectations have blurred lines, changed provider routines, and increased capacity for connection to work.
Some observations (which are likely to be reflected across Mass General Brigham) are below:
• Leaders at Spaulding noticed that many staff were not using vacation time or “unplugging” after hours
– Staff feel guilty leaving colleagues to cover or “abandoning” patients
– Some staff experienced drops in income due to the Pandemic-related financial impacts on the healthcare system
• The fact that healthcare never really shuts down creates a situation in which its people cannot shut down either
– This was exacerbated during the Pandemic when outside of work activities and connections were not as accessible
• Workplace balance was also lacking in some ways. There was a single focus on COVID and other career components (research, teaching and other programs) were “on the back burner.”
– Oz provided the example of the Adaptive Sports Program, which was paused during the Pandemic. This program offers persons with disabilities an opportunity to find a way to continue to compete in athletic activities. The Center not only provides joy and sense of satisfaction for patients, but also for staff. It represents an alternative way to interface with patients. Staff was proud to be able to compensate with virtual platforms.
Concerns about impacts on employee well-being
Oz noted potential effects from both COVID and cultural norms due to blurred work and home lines:
• Self-care and life balance deficits
• Diminished productivity or sense of accomplishment
• Reduced engagement within the workforce
• Higher staff turnover and/or burn-out
System and manager level considerations
Dr. Zafonte and Oz suggested the following:
• Determine if the system has resolvable barriers to creating a life balance
• Be willing to consider new approaches to helping staff incorporate healthy boundaries
• Evaluate options for coverage so staff who wish to disconnect have the option to do so
– Dr. Zafonte referenced models used in the UK and Canada, in which there are dedicated covering physicians
• Be realistic with measures for improvement
– It’s unlikely that always shutting off email when away from work is practical or feasible
• Lead by example
– Model the behavior you hope others will adopt
– Acknowledge that “one size doesn’t fit all”- not everyone needs the same accommodation or balance
– Build in permission for flexibility and healthy boundaries within the confines of patient care and business needs
• Oz stressed the value in being open-minded about individual or generational values and world views.
How Individuals can Tweak their own Life Balance
- Identify what balance or components will make you happy. This is unique to each person
– This might be an internal process and/or include discussion with others in your life
- Be honest and flexible about what is feasible and attainable, and work within this framework
- Find mentors who have similar professional interests, priorities and lifestyle goals
- Identify allies in and out of work who can help you achieve the desired balance
- Remember this is an ongoing process and takes time, practice, and re-evaluation
- Ask for assistance if you need it
– Hospital leaders and the EAP want to help
Finding the right, unique balance for you is an individual and fluid process. Although incorporating healthy lifestyle habits will not magically resolve all your issues, sometimes this can help to lessen the stress that comes when life is out of balance.
Below is some information on self-care:
- EAP General Wellness Resources (Healthy Lifestyle & Mindfulness)
- Mass General Brigham Well-being Resources
- EAP – Understanding Burnout in Healthcare
- EAP – Staying Healthy while Working Remotely
- EAP News – Coping with Stress and Burnout during COVID-19
EAP Webinar Series:
Contacting the EAP
The Mass General Brigham Employee Assistance Program is available to help with anything related to finding the right balance for you or assistance with stress or burnout. Contact the EAP at 866-724-4327, or request an appointment via our online form for confidential assistance.