I recently heard that the average American worker now works 47 hours a week – more than many other countries across the world. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2014/09/02/the-average-work-week-is-now-47-hours/)
Did you know a recent study states American workers forfeited more than $50 billion in earned time-off in 2013, taking the least amount of vacation hours than in the last 40 years? (http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/22/travel/u-s-workers-vacation-time/) Even though nurses are not typically scheduled to work more than 40 hours, many nurses have long stretches of 12 hour shifts, are working overtime, or are picking up extra shifts, leading to feelings of exhaustion and trying to catch up on errands and sleep on your days off. Add to this long work week the fact that many of us make additional commitments outside of work that quickly fill the rest of our time – commitments to family, friends, community, and additional professional commitments. It seems the new norm is that we believe we must constantly be in motion in life.
It may feel as if we have no control over this pattern of continuous “scheduling” of our time –moving from one activity to the next with little time to plan or evaluate whether what we are doing is the best use of our time. And many of us may have obligations that, at least for periods of time, are difficult to negotiate. But I would challenge us to take a true look at our activities and work hours for a month and with a fresh eye see how many of the commitments on our calendars are choices we made – because of feelings of guilt, because we believe this makes us “good parents,” because we can’t say no to a professional commitment request beyond our shift or daily work – and whether we actually do have control over those choices by prioritizing those that align with personal values or those that make the most difference or bring the most joy to you, your family, or your colleagues. Becoming overcommitted can accentuate feelings of exhaustion, resentment, and inadequacy as the quality of our work and activities declines. It can also lead to an inability to follow through with commitments you have made to others, leaving them angry and disappointed. An honest “I’m not able to at this time” may be much more valued and respected than making a commitment that ultimately you cannot fulfill.
Joanne Disch, former President of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, has a twist on the saying “work hard, play hard” by adding that we also need to “rest hard.” Critically looking to see where you can carve out time for true relaxation and activities that re-energize rather than drain your energy will ultimately give you a sense of purpose that the work you do as a nurse and the activities you commit to outside of work will result in more quality than simple quantity.
Mary Fran Tracy, RN, PhD, CCNS