Nurse Leaders Offer Wisdom on Achieving Work–Life Balance


By Megan M. Krischke, contributor

Inherent in the profession of nursing is the call to care for others. But at the same time, nurses must be attentive to caring for themselves; this will allow them to find a balance between their work life and personal life, which rejuvenates them and allows them to be the best nurses they can be.

“Nurses who are out of balance may find that their attention to detail starts to slack, that they are being short with patients and co-workers, that they have a lack of energy, their sleep patterns are interrupted, they lose or gain weight, they look fatigued and they feel like they are leading a passionless existence,” listed Terry Chase, MA, ND, RN, patient and family education program coordinator at Craig Hospital in Denver. “Often this move toward burnout is gradual and insidious.”

“When I am in balance, I am focused, I can accomplish a lot and I can work 10- to 12-hour days with ease, I am able to stay in a positive frame of mind, I sleep well and I feel that I am managing my schedule, rather than my schedule managing me,” said Colleen Hallberg, MSN, RN, FACHE, chief nursing officer at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz.

To keep her sense of balance, Hallberg said she focuses on her priorities, delegates when possible, says no when needed, and works to be efficient and to quickly tie up loose ends when she is at work. When she isn’t working, she focuses on her well-being: exercise, diet, sleep and relaxation.

“I believe very strongly in the importance of taking vacation time and getting away--not just taking a week at home where you end up working around the house the whole time. I try to take multiple trips a year, even if they are short,” she remarked. “I also joke that people should have a pet, and the more dependent on you to feed it and take it out, the better. Sometimes people need a reason to leave work and get home at the end of the day.”

Chase encourages nursing leaders to require their staff and themselves to take a lunch break. She also has asked the three nurses she is mentoring to develop a joy list.

“Somehow, having a list of the things that bring them joy gives nurses permission to make those things a priority and to do what is life-giving to them,” she explained.

Chase also encourages nurse leaders to be good models to their staff.

“Having a frazzled nurse manager doesn’t help anyone to feel more balanced,” she said. “It sends a powerful message to your staff when they see that you are taking the time to care for yourself. Also, leaders should endeavor to address issues within the unit quickly--clear, direct communication saves a lot of energy.”

Hallberg works to allow work–life balance for the nurses under her leadership by ensuring that her hospital has a complete and fully staffed workforce so that nurses are not being pressured to take extra shifts and work overtime.

“There are so many economic constraints on people right now, and as a result I see some nurses pushing themselves to work too many shifts. I encourage people to rethink their priorities in life and to make adjustments that allow them to work a reasonable number of shifts,” Hallberg commented. “I also encourage nurses to be very thoughtful about alcohol, diet, sleep and exercise. People who have to work hard need to be ready to do so and if they aren’t refreshing their body and mind they are going to start showing signs of stress.”

“What I tell our brand-new nurses is that their first year needs to be a learning year, and to be really kind to themselves, and not expect to know everything and get everything right; that is why they are surrounded by a team,” she continued.  “Their primary focus should be safety, and if any doubts or questions arise, they should always take it to the team and not feel like they are practicing alone.”

It isn’t always work that upsets the work–life balance, however--sometimes life just happens. That is why many organizations have employee assistance programs that offer services ranging from counseling to legal advice and may even be able to help locate local resources for child or elder care.

“Life is full of stressors and off and on people can become overwhelmed with what is going on with their lives. Leaders should watch out for their people and help them connect to the resources available to them,” Hallberg said. “Although it can feel difficult, if we think one of our team members is struggling, we need to talk to them--that is the role of the leader.”

Finally, Chase reminds nurses to allow a personal element to come through in their care.

“Sometimes we are so caught up in the task at hand that we forget to communicate with patients on a person-to-person level,” she said. “Taking the time out to relate with patients improves the delivery of health care and can rejuvenate us as nurses.”

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