It is now ‘more important than ever’ that GP practice staff look after themselves and each other, as the second Covid-19 wave rolls in, a GP has said.
Speaking at Management in Practice’s virtual festival (21 October), Dr Farzana Hussain, East London GP partner, PCN director and LMC committee member, said practice teams have had to work harder and have experienced trauma and fear for their health and that of their families during the pandemic.
Dr Hussain shared her top tips for improving the well-being of staff ‘at a time when [they] really need it’.
- Understand your staff and their needs
Dr Hussain said this partly involves ‘making the time to listen’ to employees, even if this is just a few minutes each day. The key thing is to really listen to what the other person is saying, and ‘not to just listen in order to respond’.
She added: ‘Try to help your staff members and yourself to incorporate your work around your life. So, if somebody has got a sick child and they’ve been up all night, do they need to do all their hours the following day, or could their tasks be made up later? I found that my staff have actually given back more because they were grateful that I was understanding.’
- Be present and visible
‘One of the things I hadn’t realised [previously], as the GP partner, is perhaps I wasn’t always thought of as approachable because I’m the employer. I know that sometimes my practice manager feels that,’ Dr Hussain explained.
‘Really making that extra step to be approachable is important, so that everybody can talk to you and not just see you as the boss, because it makes a big difference.’
- Ensuring staff feel competent
Staff across primary care have had to rapidly learn new skills this year in response to the pandemic, including receptionists who went from primarily handling telephone calls and serving people at the desk to now doing a lot of triage work, she said.
It is important for practice managers to ‘make sure that they are okay with that, and feel they have the training and support needed’.
Dr Hussain suggested that this could be done by providing staff with time for feedback and also giving people the ‘confidence boost’ they may need to come forward.
Meeting training needs, despite time constraints, could also ‘pay off in the long run’, she added.
- Cultivating a shared purpose
Practice managers should make sure everyone in the team knows what the shared goals of the practice are, and not be afraid to delegate, Dr Hussain said: as ‘you might find that the team is really excited about being given a bit of responsibility and will really step up’.
‘But do check that the work is being done. Because often, it’s not because people don’t want to, but they may not feel competent or confident in their role,’ she added.
- Offering praise
‘Do not underestimate the power of praise’, Dr Hussain said.
‘Praise doesn’t just mean that we have to lie and say everything is great if it isn’t, as we can explain what could be better. Remember to mention what’s being done well. It’s good to not blame an individual [when things go wrong], but to ask for the task to be done differently.’
Dr Hussain suggested that practices follow the two pizza rule – advocated by Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO – who states that ‘If you can’t feed your team with two big pizzas, then your team is probably too big’.
She recommended that practices be divided into groups of 10, if working in a larger team.
- Flexible working
The Covid-19 pandemic has enabled lots of remote working, Dr Hussain said, but warned of the need to ensure staff working from home are not left isolated.
‘I’ve been working from my bedroom for a number of months. I’m privileged enough to still have a job where I go to the practice to see patients face-to-face, but a lot of my work is from my bedroom, and that can be quite isolating.
‘Some people have young children, or maybe they have care responsibilities, or just work in a very noisy place. So just ask how they’re doing with that remote working.’
- Coaching approach
This is about helping staff to provide their own answers to their own issues.
‘We all know that if we work out and answer for ourselves, we’re more likely to achieve that,’ Dr Hussain said.
‘An interesting fact I came across is that we all need five positive comments to balance one negative one. That’s quite important for me running the practice. Every time I say ‘can we do this better’, I also think about five positive things’.
- Have fun
It is still possible to have fun in a busy GP practice, she added.
‘We played Twister in the pre-Covid days, when we didn’t need to social distance. And although it seems like a waste of time in a busy day, that 30 minutes made the afternoon clinic go so much better, with smiles on our faces, and the patients really noticed.’