Having just spent a lovely few hours in the garden, I was reflecting how much visual reinforcement I was getting for completing a task well. Raking leaves and piling them up is so very satisfying. So is pruning back overgrown roses and climbers. As I was tidying away the tools I couldn’t help but make comparisons with work.
I used to have so many more visual reinforcements to work completed. The satisfaction of transferring a bursting in tray full of notes and messages into the out tray. The hand-signing each letter before passing them back to my secretary. At the end of a good week my desk looked clear. Going further back the quiet eeriness of a silent ED once the last patient of the day had gone. Or the joy felt walking away from the post take day having completed all the jobs on the list.
Now we are working under different systems and different pressures. So much work is electronic and therefore ‘hidden’. The satisfaction of an inbox full of read messages or even inbox zero doesn’t quite give the same glow. More acutely we spend much time in handover. Here we focus on tasks not done and little time reflecting on what we have completed. Indeed some of our best ‘achievements’ during a shift have often got better and gone home. The Ziegarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks this can lead to cognitive overload.
So do we need to think how we re-balance this? We know we all have a negative bias. We will remember the negative, rude comments over the heartfelt thank you. We will ruminate over the IV cannula we missed rather than celebrate the many we achieved.
Perhaps we should spend time before or at the end of each handover going around the group reflecting one good thing or one ‘Wow moment’. These could be things we have done ourselves or a chance to feedback excellence in others. We did this at our last consultant meeting right at the beginning. It enabled us to start the meeting in a very positive mindset. But perhaps more importantly for me was the few minutes of humanity. We were able to reflect on some lovely moments during the previous few days. I felt closer to my consultant colleagues than I had for a while.
Much is written about burnout and some themes for solutions are emerging. Amongst them are the importance of team, especially the culture of a team. This needs to be nurtured to enable us all to grow and develop. As we shared our stories the atmosphere in the room changed. The energy was palpable and the laughter increased. There were also very poignant moments to treasure and I saw my colleagues through a different lens.
Nurturing teams when we all work in such a fragmented way can be challenging. Perhaps sharing those wow moments is a good way to start.
Associate DME for junior doctor support, Taunton