WORK-LIFE BALANCE means bringing work, whether done on the job or at home, and leisure time into balance to live life to its fullest. It doesn't mean that you spend half of your life working and half of it playing; instead, it means balancing the two to achieve harmony in physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
In today's economy, can nurses achieve work-life balance? Although doing so may be difficult, the consequences to our health can be enormous if we don't try. This article describes some of the stresses faced by nurses and tips for attaining a healthy balance of work and leisure.
In 1968, about 25% of children lived in households in which all parents worked; today, almost 50% of children live in this type of household.1 With many two-parent households accustomed to living on two paychecks, when one parent loses a job, the healthcare worker may feel pressure to continue working, or even to work more, adding to stress.
Factors such as shift work and staffing patterns can increase stress in healthcare workers. Often work demands and patient needs take precedence over nurses' needs.
Shift work, especially rotating shifts, can disrupt workers' circadian rhythms, resulting in sleep disturbances, accidents, and illnesses. Shift workers may also experience psychological issues related to isolation from family and friends who aren't on the same schedule.2
Adequate staffing affects each of us. When a shift or workplace doesn't have enough nurses, this shortage increases demands on the employees. Issues that interfere with providing adequate staffing include retiring nurses, as well as recruitment and retention issues.3 In some areas, hiring freezes may be in effect.
Problems with recruitment and retention can be partially attributed to the increasing complexity of patient care. Patients who are hospitalized today are sicker than ever before, but their hospital stay is expected to be shorter and less costly. Nurses are asked to give the best possible care, in the shortest amount of time, using minimal resources.
Burnout and other health issues
Burnout is defined as a state of continual physical and mental exhaustion; it can result in workers being disconnected from both work and home because they don't have enough energy for either.4 Dissatisfaction at the workplace, especially if conditions can't be improved, can lead to burnout.4 Exhaustion and being disconnected can increase the incidence of mistakes and accidents at both work and home.4 A frequent complaint is that a job well done isn't recognized.3
As a result of increased stress and burnout, a new personality type, type D, may be emerging. A type D person is distressed and often exhibits certain personality traits including negativity, pessimism, depression, anxiety, and loneliness, and a decreased ability to relax and enjoy leisure time.5
Home life and beyond
Pressures at home can include economic problems, marital discord, daily chores, children's activities, ongoing adult education, and elder care. Responsibilities at home need to be balanced with responsibilities at work. (See Tips for balancing work, home, and self.)
Leisure activity shouldn't be confused with sitting in front of the TV and tuning out. Leisure activity is enhanced when we engage, explore, and are challenged in ways that stimulate us, such as when we spend time with friends, work on hobbies, perform volunteer work, or practice a spiritual life.5
An autotelic personality describes someone who lives in the moment and can get the most out of life, from work to leisure.5 To be more autotelic, practice setting challenging goals that maintain your interest and excitement in life. Become immersed in leisure activities by avoiding distractions such as TV. In other words, be in the moment finding enjoyment, relaxation, and inner peace so that you literally lose track of time.6 Relaxation and leisure activities may not come easily for everyone—some of us may have to "work" at it—but in the long run, the balance we achieve in our lives will be well worth the effort.
Self-awareness is key
Know who you are. Periodically evaluate yourself to be sure that you know your own goals, desires, likes, wants, and needs. When you don't know who you are and what you want, it's difficult to achieve balance, let alone happiness and inner peace. When you assess and reevaluate yourself, readjust the demands of work and home as much as you can.
Work and home life are both necessary, but they should be fulfilling and satisfying. To achieve not only balance but also peace, fulfillment, and happiness in your life, know yourself, take action, and maintain as much control over both work and home as possible.
1. Executive Office of the President of the United States. The evolving needs of American workers. 2010. http://www.whitehouse.gov/files/documents/100331-cea-economics-workplace-flexibility.pdf
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4. Meeusen V, VanDam K, Brown-Mahoney C, VanZundert A, Knape H. Understanding nurse anesthetists' intention to leave their job: how burnout and job satisfaction mediate the impact of personality and workplace characteristics. Health Care Manage Rev.
5. Buettner L, Shattell M, Reber M. Working hard to relax: improving engagement in leisure time activities for a healthier work-life balance. Issues Mental Health Nurs.
6. Zydiak GP. 5 tips for achieving a work/life balance. Med Econ.
8. Westwood C. How to achieve a work-life balance. Nurs Manag (Harrow).