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Work-Life Balance for Nurses

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Nearly half of all women working in healthcare say they must make at least one decision a week that pits their job against their family. Also, about half of all female healthcare workers admit to doing something strictly for themselves only once or twice per year. It’s easy to see how one’s work-life balance can get lopsided.

Achieving the best work-life balance is more like running than standing still in a perfect state of equilibrium. Life is fluid, and therefore, the work-life balancing act is also fluid. It’s less of an equation with a universal right answer, and more of a puzzle that must be solved and re-solved, every single day, usually on the go.

So how do you find the right flow? Where do you start? How do you keep making it work?

Good Old Boundaries

Some nurses — you know the ones — are always prepared and poised, never seem flustered or overworked, always have extra time, and exude the impression of being perfect both at their job and in their family life.

What do those kinds of people do that others do not? How do they get everything done, when life feels overwhelming most of the time for the rest of us?

Working Nurse tells the story of Tilda Shaloff, RN, who not only practices nursing, but is also an author, a popular motivational speaker, and a wife and mother. She says her most important tools are making a list every day on paper of the main things she wants to accomplish each day. She also embraces the art of delegation, even to her children, who earn their allowance by doing house chores.

She recognizes there are realistic limits to what she can do. Speaking, writing, and working in an ICU are possible, but only by making often ruthless, but always conscious, choices about how to spend her time. Saying “no” is foundational to getting your life back into a flow that resembles balance, she says. That means making sacrifices. Perhaps that means not making a costume for your daughter’s school play this year, or not volunteering to support a political candidate.

For Shaloff, focusing on what is right and in balance means making choices that prevent her from becoming overextended.

Negotiate Your Life

The profession of nursing offers one of the greatest gifts there is to work-life balance: shift work. You can work weekends or avoid them. You can trade shifts with others (a good reason to be on great terms with your team). You can ask to double up when it’s good for you.

The best negotiators examine every angle to make sure it’s a win-win for all parties. If you keep your ears open, you can often find out when filling in for another coworker might free you to do something high on your list another time.

And that brings us to negotiating with yourself: What is it you really, really want? Only when you know that can you decide which things are most important to you, and, therefore, which things you can (and must, for your own good) let go.

What’s in It for Patients?

In healthcare, the quality of outcomes is paramount. It’s what motivates most nurses and healthcare workers, and it’s the baseline of measurement for everything from healthcare organizations to specific procedures.

One study reported that healthcare organizations with the lowest staffing turnover had significantly shorter average lengths of patient stay. Medscape further reports that “Surveys of newly licensed hospital-based nurses have shown that 43 percent leave their first jobs within three years of employment.”

Why do nurses leave their jobs? The most-cited response in one study is “feeling overworked.” That’s a classic case of work and life not being balanced.

It’s indirect, but the connection to work-life balance is compelling: Nurses and healthcare workers who achieve a satisfactory cadence to work and life are more likely to stay in their current jobs, which results in more effective and efficient care for patients.

The Balance of the Healthcare Business

Fewer than one in ten women who work in healthcare rate themselves “very satisfied” with the balance of their professional and personal lives. That means more than 90 percent of women and nurses are unhappy, which causes stress that can lead to ever more problems at work and at home. It becomes a vicious cycle that rolls all the way up to a high national nursing turnover and suboptimal outcomes for patients.

It is, by all measures, a significant problem on all levels.

The solution does not lie only with nurses and healthcare workers. Managers have a responsibility to be compassionate and clever in helping their staff handle both work and personal matters in healthy and timely ways. Senior management has the responsibility to give strategic direction that values all aspects of nurses’ lives. And healthcare policy makers are on the hook to ensure rules and guidelines include the perspectives, opinions and needs of nurses.

In the end, the work-life balance of nurses represents the state of the entire healthcare system.

Learn more about the UAH online RN to BSN program.


American Nurse Today: Achieving a Work-Life Balance

American Journal of Nursing: Striving for Work-Life Balance

American Mobile: 12 Steps to Nurses’ Work-Life Balance

WorkingNurse: Work & Life Balance: A Nurse’s Impossible Dream?

Careers in Nursing: Work-Life Balance Study Finds Nurses Need More Work-Life Balance

VHA: The Business Case for Work Force Stability

Medscape: Nurse Turnover: The Revolving Door in Nursing

TineHealth: The Pros and Cons of Nurse Turnover and Retention, Causes and Solutions

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