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Is Nurse Work-Life Balance a Myth?


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By Jennifer Thew, RN

 

Work-life balance is a hot concept in the nursing profession. We hear we need it. We want to achieve it. But does it really exist?

That question has piqued the interest of Adele A. Webb, PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN, senior academic director of workforce solutions at Minneapolis-based Capella University.

"People think they need it," she says. "But, do they? Can you ever have it? Or are people chronically dissatisfied because it's like a unicorn … they're chasing something that doesn't exist."

Balance vs. satisfaction


Webb plans to study and delve into the concept of work-life balance and nurses. She says recent conversations with nurse executives, including those at HealthLeaders Media's 2017 CNO Exchange, left her realizing that the idea needs to be better defined.

"Years ago, I read an article called Balance is Bunk!," she recalls, "and [the point] was you never have 50% this and 50% that. Sometimes work takes more, sometimes family takes more."

For example, if a nurse must take off from work to stay home with a sick child, on that day, family needs more focus than work. And there are times, especially for those who work weekends or holidays, where work will eclipse family.

Still, Webb understands the desire behind the idea of work-life balance.

"What does work-life balance really mean? It means you're happy. Well, what does happy mean? Happy means you're satisfied with what you're doing," she says. "I think what people really want is life satisfaction. They can be satisfied at home and satisfied at work even if it's not balanced."
Generational differences

Another question Webb says she is pondering is: "How then do we address or encourage satisfaction and what does that mean?"

She has noticed, even among her own family, that different generations of nurses crave different things.

"I have a daughter and a granddaughter who are nurses. My granddaughter is definitely a millennial. She's 24, new in her career, and what she wants is opportunity," Webb says. "She's always reading, trying to better her skills, and to learn something new."

This drive to further their skills and their careers is a trait often tied to the millennial generation. However, it can also be a factor that contributes to their workplace turnover. According to the RN Work Project, almost 18% of newly licensed RNs leave their first employer within the first year.

"We have the job to educate these younger nurses on opportunities to find satisfaction in the job they're in. So, when you want more, you can sign up for a committee. You can look at policy in your community or state. There are opportunities outside of leaving your unit that can meet your needs," Webb says.

"How exciting it would be for a young nurse to have the opportunity to be on the quality committee at a hospital. Or to have the opportunity to contribute to care algorithms or standards or care or policies. They would learn [so much] from it [and] they could contribute so much."

While baby boomers are more likely to stay in their positions, they, too, have a need for life satisfaction and often value time and self-fulfillment, says Webb.

For example, offering tuition assistance to pursue a master's degree may give this generation a sense of satisfaction. Or, they may find fulfillment in sharing the knowledge they've garnered over their years of experience.

"[Give them] the opportunity to be involved and be on a budget committee at the hospital and understand the finances and the contributions they make," Webb suggests. "Train them to be preceptors. Let them share that knowledge with the younger generation."

What's next?

Webb is in the beginnings of reviewing the literature for existing information on work-life balance and satisfaction and plans to interview nurses about their insights. Once she has a working thesis, she plans to connect with nursing professionals through presentations and conferences to see whether her definition and evaluation of work-life balance or work-life satisfaction rings true.