Paul Jenkins – Switching Off

Hello.  My name is Paul Jenkins and I am the Chief Executive of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. The topic I want to cover in today’s podcast is the issue of switching off.

We are living and working through a dramatic set of events and anxiety is rife.  Staff in the NHS and social care are working exceptionally hard to support patients and each other.  Events are moving at an amazing pace and the decisions we are taking can, literally, be matters of life and death. 

Against this background I am not surprised to hear that colleagues are finding it hard to switch off and that some are also having difficulties sleeping. It is really important that we all do our best to look after ourselves and find ways to disengage from work.

In my career, I have encountered lots of situations which have put me under a lot of personal stress, and which have tested my resilience. 

Over the years I have tried to identify strategies for coping with that level of pressure.  I don’t claim to have cracked it but here are some of the things which have worked for me.

The first is to acknowledge that to be effective I do need to set some boundaries.  Nobody can work 7 days a week flat out without some time off.  However much my job requires me, at times, to work out of hours I always try still to preserve some space where I am not on duty and where I do not look at my phone. More importantly I try to do my best to respect those boundaries with others.

The second is the value of outside interests.  I am a keen cyclist, love reading and music.  All those activities help me escape from the here and now and help me recharge my batteries. 

Getting out for exercise is particularly important.  Not just in respect of looking after my physical health, but also to refresh my psychological wellbeing. #

I have always stood by the famous line of the Welsh poet W.H.Davies:

What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare

Even at a time when the requirements of social distancing are limiting horizons, there are, in the immediate area around where I live in South London, so many places which call me to stand and stare.

I am finding it very helpful that we are going through all of this at the start of Spring when each walk or cycle offers a new treat as different trees come into leaf and new blossoms appear.  In normal times some of these things can pass me by but, at present, they are particularly comforting.

My third tip is the importance of other people and appreciating each other. We will get through this current crisis by sticking together and supporting each other.  There are moments, in what we are dealing with, for challenge and difficult conversations but there is more need for praise, gratitude and thanks.  They are the fuel on which we all best run at times of stress.

As a Chief Executive, I am pretty used to brickbats and criticism.  You develop something of a thick skin, but constant negativity gets at me and amplifies the sense of stress I feel.  So last night, when I got a lovely positive response to an all staff email, it gave me an enormous boost and helped me disengage from the pressure of other difficult issues I am dealing with.

My final point is to try not to be a hero.  There are lots of brilliant people doing brilliant work at present but no one of us is indispensable.  The world will not fall over if we’re not there for a day and we all deserve the chance to stand back, have some time to ourselves and recharge our batteries.  After all a burnt-out hero is no good to anyone. 

Paul Jenkins is the Chief Executive of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Paul talks about the importance of switching off during this difficult time, and talks through some of his personal coping strategies during periods of stress and pressure. He offers some helpful, practical tips for everyone to consider.

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