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The Trouble with Work-Life Balance in Nursing

Can maintaining a complete work-life balance lead to burnout?

Nurses General Nursing Article Video   posted

Melissa Mills specializes in Nurse Case Manager, Professor, Freelance Writer.

There is a lot of emphasis on work-life balance. However, in nursing, trying to balance home and work could lead to burnout. Here's a look at how to have some strategic "imbalance" between your work and home life to be a healthy nurse.

Work-Life Balance Poll

  1. 1. Do you feel that it's easy to keep balance between home and work?

    • 17
      Yes, I'm mentally and physically well and balanced as a nurse and person.
    • 29
      No, I struggle and feel burned-out.
  2. 2. Does you workplace provide you what you need to combat burn-out?

    • 16
      Yes, my employer provides what I need to be healthy as a nurse.
    • 30
      No way! Work wants to be number 1 in my life and I have to draw the line!

46 members have participated

The Trouble with Work-Life Balance in Nursing
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Have you ever seen a double-pan balance scale? It’s a scale that has two pans that are balanced against one another. As you put weights on one side, you must counter it with weight on the other to maintain balance. If you read about these scales, you will find that you must put weight on them in very small increments to maintain equilibrium. You must also take into account the weight of the container that you use to help balance the two sides.

The idea of nurse work-life balance works the same. For everything you do at work, you need to offset it with something at home to keep balance. And if you take time for yourself at home, you would need to ramp up work to meet the weight of what you just did for yourself at home. This concept would keep work and home life equal in function, value, and amount.

The more you think about this notion, the more you may consider that this is not a safe or healthy life for nurses. Maintaining a complete balance between work and home will likely lead to burnout, fatigue, and career unhappiness.

Let’s take a look at the dangers of work-life balance in nursing.

Work Doesn’t End When You Clock Out

In today’s world of technological advancements, walking away from work is challenging. Even when you aren’t within the confines of the hospital or long-term care facility, you are probably connected. You may receive emails on your phone or text messages from coworkers letting you know that Mrs. Johnson took a turn for the worse.

You might even carry a laptop home with you that seems to call your name each time you sit down to take some time for yourself. It’s easy to think, “I’ll just check on a few things. It will only take 10-15 minutes,” and before you know it, it’s been three hours and you are knee-deep in work that you shouldn’t be doing until tomorrow or the day after. This can further tip the scales of nurse work-life balance towards unbalance.

Challenge of “Leaving Home at the Door”

Have you ever had a supervisor tell you that you need to leave your home life and any problems at the door when you come to work? In theory, this is a good concept. However, it isn’t always practical. If you have an ill child, parent, partner, or another family member, you might have to answer questions or check in on them at work. And, sometimes life gets messy in ways that you just can’t “turn-off” because you are at work. Trying to block out home life when you’re working can tip the scales in a way that could lead to an unhealthy home life.

Balance Can Be Dangerous

Trying to keep balance in life could be dangerous. Think about it, your body is rarely in perfect balance. When you walk, you need a little imbalance to keep moving. When you are perfectly balanced, you are standing still, not moving forward or achieving any goals. The same could be true with the idea of work-life balance. If work and home are equal, you are likely not moving forward in either place.

It’s important to allow the scale to shift from time to time. Maybe this month you are doing continuing education and a conference that requires work to be a little on the heavy side. But, next month you have plans to take a few days off and will be resting and having fun with friends and family. This is a healthy mix of imbalance that can help you move forward in both areas of your life.

What Are a Few Strategies to Be a Healthy, Imbalanced Nurse?

Call in When Needed

Raise your hand if you’ve ever called in and felt extremely guilty about it. Okay, a sea of nurses' hands just went up!

Nursing is a challenging career. If you or a loved one are sick, you may need to stay home. Heck, sometimes you just need to spend more time at home, even if no one is ill. You might need a “mental health” day or need to spend time with a child who is having a hard time at school. While it might feel that you are letting your coworkers down, it’s critical to remember that your sick days are “yours” and you get to use them as you see fit. Your employer provides these days to give you time to address family needs, so use them!

Make Work Your Focus

When you are at work, be present. We all need to check in on kids every now and then, but it’s essential to have a structure at home that can handle the nuances of life when you are at work. This means hiring a babysitter, putting a little more responsibility onto your partner on days you work or asking for help from family and friends.

Plan Professional Development

You became a nurse to help others. To do this, you have to invest in your continuous improvement and education. One of the best ways to do this is to join professional nursing organizations and get involved. Go to the annual conference and participate in education and self-improvement activities. Be sure to structure home life in a way that allows you to fully engage with your educational opportunities.

Plan a Vacation

Going on vacation might seem like a luxury that you can’t afford. However, it’s vitally important to give your family a good dose of imbalance at least once a year. Plan a trip or cruise and completely disconnect from work. Let coworkers know that you are off and need to not be contacted about work. This doesn’t mean your work-bestie can’t text you, it just means that they need to not tell you about the issues at work, but can check in to see how you and the family are doing.

An imbalance is good.

How do you keep a little imbalance in your life to stay healthy?

Leave a comment below to get the conversation started.

Melissa is a professor, medical writer, and business owner. She has been a nurse for over 20 years and enjoys combining her nursing knowledge and passion for the written word. She is available for writing, editing, and coaching services. You can see more of her work at https://melissamillswrites.contently.com/.

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MSO4foru specializes in Hospice Home Care and Inpatient.

I love the idea of work life balance. I think the ( maybe)only way its possible is to have a 12 hour hospital job on a unit that you rarely have the same pts for more than shift. My experience as a hospice nurse both doing homecare and inpatient is: if you do homecare when you are back from vacation you have 3- 4 hours of reviewing notes to look at so that you are caught up. And then there's the extra work that the fill in staff caused. And the correcting in accurate advice that was given - such as oral antibiotics for imminently dying pt who can't swallow. I wish I were making it up. And even with inpt- you wonder if your request that a chaplain or Social Worker see the pt pronto will be followed up with. Or a hundred other things. In my area, I totally blame the system. Or our CNO. We have had at least 75% staff turnover in the last year.

JBMmom specializes in Long term care; med-surg; critical care.

I am a second career nurse and I don't think that the challenges of work life balance are unique to nursing. In many fields of work these days there are challenges related to balancing everything. Much of it comes down to the expectations of employers and bosses that people are easily accessible at all times. And in defense of employers, many workers spend much of their time at work connected to outside distractions which is also not in balance. My family knows that when I am at work they can contact me, in an emergency, through the unit phone. I will not be checking texts and phone messages because I'm at work and I'm expected to focus on my job.

For people that feel burnt out, I hope that they can find something that allows them to feel a better balance. I know that for myself, especially when my kids were younger, I tried to make sure that when I was home they knew they were the priority. Not my phone, not my computer, time with them. So what we lacked in quantity, I think we almost made up in quantity. Even with teenagers now, a good family game night is something that we all enjoy. It can be the little things that really help when the rest of life gets busier than we might like.

Edited by JBMmom

OUxPhys specializes in Cardiology.

I take vacation every couple of months. I have to. If not I will lose my mind. Ive only ever called in once and that was when I had a ridiculous schedule (That I did not schedule myself for). The problem though is I feel like my facility punishes or discourages the calling off.

Meagan specializes in CHF.

I'm so glad that you highlighted that there are many ways that nurses get burned out. Although my job in the clinic is not physically demanding, it can be mentally exhausting. We take on a lot of our patient's burden and this can get to a person! Fortunately, I have a great team and we take care of each other!


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