Nurses at high risk of work-family conflict
One solution: self-scheduling
Nurses are at high risk of stress caused by work-family conflict (WFC) partly because of the physical and emotional demands of their long shifts. One solution could be to permit some worker self-scheduling, an expert says.
Nurses who worked in hospitals that provided a policy of self-scheduling were very satisfied with the policy and credited this for making their work-family lives more flexible. The increased flexibility also helped them take better care of their own health, according to a recent study.1
"Basically, just the nature of nursing work is stressful," says Mira Grice Sheff, PhD, MS, assistant professor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY.
"Twelve hour shifts are common, and nurses work evening shifts," she adds. "There are a lot of staffing shortages that some hospitals report makes the work more stressful."
Studies show that many health care professions are at high risk for stress and WFC, including medical technicians, radiation therapists, social workers, occupational therapists, physicians, and nurses.2
"Work-family conflict is a worker issue," Sheff says. "Any worker who has limited decision-making about the schedule and limited flexibility and long working hours will be at risk, too; doctors fall in this category, and radiology technicians and other workers also are at risk."
A new study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology suggests that workers who fail to psychologically detach from stressful events in the workplace are at greater risk of work-family conflict.3
Hospitals could help workers improve detachment and alleviate stress through encouraging more organizational communication so employees have no ambiguity or conflict with their roles, helping employees participate in decision-making, and granting employees greater independence with meaningful and timely feedback, according to the Management Study Guide’s Web guide on strategies for managing workplace stress.
In research conducted by the National Association of Social Workers, the top three personal methods for social workers to alleviate stress are exercise, meditation, and therapy.4
Also, demographics play a role. Older nurses in their 40s or 50s generally are more likely to be taking care of aging parents as well as children, and this can contribute to WFC, Sheff says.
A new study in Gerontology found that middle-aged adults are engaged in multiple life domains simultaneously and this can lead to conflict between those different demands, particularly for women. For instance, women reported more psychosomatic symptoms when they had conflict between their work and family domains.5
Sheff has looked into how WFC is impacted by changes health systems make, including allowing self-scheduling, which her research suggests is a popular solution.
"With self-scheduling, employees have some input, and while it’s not a guarantee of their getting the schedule they need, it does give them a little bit of flexibility that is necessary for balancing their home responsibilities with work obligations," Sheff explains.
Work-related stress caused by work-family conflict has been noted in literature for more than two decades.
After the Family Medical Leave Act was passed in the early 1990s, research into WFC took off, Sheff notes.
Nationally, the problem became more noticeable as greater numbers of women, including working mothers, entered the workforce and were forced to balance their professional responsibilities with their family roles, she adds.
"With WFC, there are two directions that it can go: You can have work interference with home, and you can have home interference with work," Sheff says. "It depends on the work environment and personal issues in a worker’s life, but nurses generally report more work interference with the family, and that, generally speaking, is what you see in the literature."
What research suggests is that workers experiencing this stress are less productive, have more turnover, and it leads to decreased quality of care and increased errors with patients, Sheff says.
"Unhappy workers will not work as well; they might call in sick more and they might make more mistakes," she adds. "For these reasons, employers should be concerned about the stress workers are experiencing."
- Sheff MG, Meyer JD. Work-family conflict and caregiving among nurses: Can self-scheduling ease the burden? Published online by The Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace. 2014:35.
- Jennings BM. (Ed.: Hughes, RG). Work stress and burnout among nurses: Role of the work environment and working conditions. Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses. 2008. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
- Demsky CA, Ellis AM, Fritz C. Shrugging it off: does psychological detachment from work mediate the relationship between workplace aggression and work-family conflict? J Occup Health Psychol 2014:Epub ahead of print.
- Arrington P. Stress at work: How do social workers cope? NASW Membership Workforce Study. 2008.
- Freund AM, Knecht M, Wiese BS. Multidomain engagement and self-reported psychosomatic symptoms in middle-aged women and men. Gerontology 2014: Epub ahead of print.