Study Finds Nurses Need More Work-Life Balance


By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

Less than 10 percent of women working in health care report they are very satisfied with the balance of work and other responsibilities in their lives, and 45 percent say they must make a decision weekly that places their job and families at odds.

“This group has a very difficult time putting themselves first,” said Quint Studer, founder and CEO of the Studer Group of Gulf Breeze, Florida. “In order to get a work–life blend, you have to say ‘no,’ and that’s not a strong part of this group’s vocabulary.”

Concerned about prior research indicating that employee turnover adversely affects patient mortality, Studer sponsored a study to learn how work–family responsibilities affect women working in health care. Women comprise more than 80 percent of the health care workforce.

Studer researchers asked 7,792 women working in health care about their satisfaction with life and work, how they balance their responsibilities, and what they look for in an employer. Studer said this was the largest study ever done on the topic.

Twenty-two percent of respondents to the online survey were in leadership roles and 78 percent in hourly jobs spread throughout health care. Twenty-three percent of those responding were nurses. About 52 percent of respondents had a child younger than 18 years at home and 23 percent were responsible for caring for another relative.

Seventy-five percent of the women who responded said that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their lives, and 73 percent said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their work life. Similarly, 75 percent said they would chose health care again or recommend it to others.

“Very satisfied people want to stay, and satisfied people will stay unless something better comes along,” Studer said.

The survey found, however, that only 45 percent of the respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with their work-life blend.

“Out of that, 36 percent are satisfied and only 9 percent very satisfied,” Studer said. “That’s a real sobering number.”

The respondents said that at least one time every week they have to make a decision that puts their work and family at odds with one another.

Studer gave an example: When people working in other industries receive a call about a sick or injured family member, they can generally take off and go to the loved one. But nurses working with ill and dependent patients—especially in units with stringent nurse-to-patient ratios—often cannot leave.

“We are asking them to make a lot of sacrifices,” Studer said.

In addition, 46 percent of the women do something for themselves only one or two times a year.

“This is a group of people that give so much to other people, but have a very difficult time rewarding themselves,” Studer said.

The study found that the women’s number-one driver for feeling better about their work–life blend was their supervisor. The women look to the supervisor to care about them as a person, to understand their child-care and elder-care responsibilities, and to work with them to accommodate those needs.

The women also want supervisors to ensure the necessary tools and equipment are available to do their job, and they want input into their work, including a say in hiring peers.

“When they are at work, they want to be as productive as possible,” Studer said.

The lesson for hospitals, according to Studer, is that they need to train and develop supervisors’ skills, even when money gets tight.

The researchers found that women at all levels want to work for an organization that invests in their development.

Another area the team found important to these employees was getting help with developing skills outside of work. Not only did respondents want opportunities to grow professionally, but they also want opportunities to improve their home skills—parenting, financial planning, understanding issues associated with aging, and managing time.

“Organizations that are on the cutting edge, we believe, will start helping people with outside-of-work issues, which will help them be better inside at work,” Studer said. “One of the key things women are looking for in a workplace is that [the employer] cares about me as a human being.”

More than 60 percent of the respondents said they would like more flexible scheduling and half wanted to reduce their working hours. The women in the study worked an average of 47 hours per week.

“There is a direct correlation between the number of hours worked and the amount of work–life blend conflict you are going through,” Studer said. “More hours creates more conflict.”

Sixty-three percent of respondents said they would take advantage of a concierge service if the employer offered it. However, Studer said that this kind of service would not be worthwhile if the other key factors are lacking.

Most of all, the study found that female health care workers want a good supervisor, the training needed to grow, and the tools that will help them do a good job.

“Return on investment is the employee knowing you care enough about them, that you want them to be healthy,” Studer said.

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