Deconstructing the
stress sandwich

Take some tight budgets, add big demands plus more than a pinch of high level scrutiny and you have the recipe for an epic stress sandwich — a familiar issue for many public-sector bodies.

When East Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group Chief Accountable Officer Gary James looked at his staff he saw willing, committed and able people being squeezed from all sides.  “We needed to find a way to not only survive but also to really deliver.  I wanted to increase both effectiveness and staff well-being at the same time and invited the Work Life Balance Centre to help us with that.”

The raw ingredients
CCGs were created following a widespread NHS reorganisation.  Being a new organisation added to the familiar picture of scarce resources, growing demand for services and increasing political scrutiny of life in public service. People felt the pressure from all sides and the workload seemed relentless.  Gary had some fundamental questions: “How can we develop our people to build the skills they need to cope and also enjoy the rewards and satisfaction that public service brings?”

The recipe
The WLBC designed a multi-disciplinary framework combining psychometric assessment, one to one coaching and group workshops.  Critically, it began by working with teams to understand their current reality and set realistic goals for the development journey.  As a result, the participants were in the driving seat of the programme content ensuring it was directly relevant to the specific challenges they faced.

Topics included understanding leadership styles and roles, working with different preferences and styles, strategies for improving well being and balance, building confidence and developing coaching skills as well as improving performance in difficult situations.  The programme was structured over eight months allowing time for people to work with the principles, apply them to their daily situations, and then review and develop their learning with colleagues.

The proof of the pudding
Gary said: “The challenges we face as an organisation are hugely complex.  The NHS is always at the heart of political and public scrutiny and the stakes for our staff are high.  The very nature of our working environment is pressured and unpredictable. I wanted to give our people the very best tools to navigate inevitably stressful situations and maintain their own well-being. Only if our staff feel equipped, cared for and valued can they deliver high performance in their roles.  Our work with the Work Life Balance Centre has made a fantastic contribution to that.”

Participants report the programme delivered important benefits in several key areas including efficiency, strategy, positive mind-set, wellbeing and managing people.  Many highlighted the positive benefits of managing their time more effectively and learning to focus on the most critical issues.  They also reported having a deeper understanding of their leadership approach and impact on others, with more capacity to work with those who have different styles and preferences.  Many reported increased self-confidence and capacity to manage change.  Investing in developing coaching skills also saw improved performance organisation wide as the programme participants shared their learning more widely.