Nurses suffer work-life conflict

September 22 2006 - A recent national survey of American registered nurses found that half reported that work chronically interfered with their home lives, for example being unable to spend the time they wanted with their families, according to researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Joseph Grzywacz, associate professor of family and community medicine and lead author said:

"Work-family conflict has significant implications for nurses in terms of personal health, their ability to provide quality care and for the nursing profession itself."

The report in Research in Nursing & Health is said to be the first to provide reliable estimates of how frequently work-family conflict occurs among nurses. It focuses on situations in which the demands and responsibilities of work and family roles are incompatible in some respect. The authors point out that this can occur in both directions. For example, family can interfere with work if an individual is distracted by marital problems or a sick child. Work can interfere with family when schedules make it impossible to attend family functions or complete household chores.

The researchers argue that work-family conflict may exacerbate the current nursing shortage by discouraging people from entering the profession or prompting them to change careers. Other studies have found that work-family conflict is associated with lower job satisfaction, fatigue, burnout, and emotional distress or depressive symptoms.

The study targeted the 78 per cent of registered nurses (RNs) who live in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). The researchers randomly selected 4000 RNs from 40 of the MSAs. The response rate to a questionnaire about work-family conflict was 48 per cent, with 1906 nurses completing the survey. Of those, 63 per cent worked in hospitals and 14 per cent in ambulatory care settings. Direct care was provided by 64 per cent and 18.5 per cent were managers. Most of the nurses (63 per cent) worked day shift, and 20 per cent worked evenings. Others worked rotating or non-standard shifts.

Nurses were asked how often their jobs interfered with their home lives and responsibilities, such as yard work, cooking, cleaning, repairs, shopping, paying the bills or child care, or kept them from spending the amount of time they would like with their families. They were also asked about home life interfering with their jobs and responsibilities, such as getting to work on time or accomplishing daily tasks, or how often it kept them from spending the amount of time they would like on work-related activities.

Half of the nurses reported chronic (one day a week or more) work interference with family and 41 per cent reported episodic (less than monthly or 1 to 3 days per month) interference with family. When it came to family interference with work, only 11 per cent reported chronic interference and 52 per cent reported episodic interference.

Joseph Grzywacz said this high percentage is significant because research has shown that it is the intensity of work interference with family that can undermine nurses' health and well-being and contribute to intentions to leave. He suggested that further studies should determine if flexible work arrangements such as job sharing reduce the frequency of conflict.