Nurses work and live in two separate worlds. In one world, they’re caregivers who often put the needs of patients before their own. In the other, nurses are steadfast friends, caring family members, and lifelong learners—individuals striving to find fulfillment in their personal lives. When worlds collide and nurses are unable to balance the contrasting demands of work and their family, wellness, and personal needs, it can lead to inner turmoil, physical and mental health concerns, and burnout.

When loved ones, personal goals, and a nursing career are all vying for your attention, how can you possibly balance all of life’s demands? As we look at the importance of and strategies for improving work-life balance as a nurse, you can begin your journey of self-improvement by being honest with yourself. What are your priorities? What’s holding you back? And what does a fulfilled, satisfying life look like to you while navigating these two disparate domains? As you’ll soon read, your two worlds may not be as separate as you think.

What Is Work-Life Balance in Nursing?

For nurses, work-life balance doesn’t mean bisecting your time into 50% work and 50% leisure, nor does it mean completely separating these two halves. According to management professor Marcus Butts, “Busy people who see work and nonwork as two separate spheres tend to get angry when one bleeds into the other.” Rather than looking at your work and personal life as two competing halves, he suggests looking at life as “one big pie.”

Another way is to imagine life as a wheel. The “Wheel of Life” is a tool that can help you visualize the varying areas of your life. In addition to work and leisure, the wheel of life generally contains:

  • Family and friends
  • Finances
  • Health
  • Personal growth
  • Physical health
  • Romance

There will be days when one area of your life takes priority, like when you’re asked to work overtime, and that’s okay, so long as the other areas of your life aren’t neglected for too long. What is work-life balance as a nurse? It’s being satisfied with all aspects of your life, including work and leisure, even when one aspect takes priority over the others, and it’s absolutely achievable.

What’s So Important About Balancing Work and Leisure?

When not at work, nurses try to squeeze as much out of their free time as possible, including spending time with their family, furthering their education, and finding time for a little rest and relaxation. No one wants to choose between work and personal commitments like these. However, nurses who are unable to improve work-life balance risk falling short in both their personal and professional lives.

Work-life imbalance can also result in burnout, a state of physical and mental exhaustion that causes nurses to feel disconnected from work and home. Nurses experiencing burnout are more likely to make mistakes, which can be costly and dangerous in the medical field. According to the Mayo Clinic, nurses with poor life-balance put their own health at risk as a result of chronic stress, which can cause anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, and heart disease.

How to Achieve Work-Life Balance

Your first step in achieving work-life balance is to use your skills as a nurse to evaluate your own priorities. What would you tell a patient if they were experiencing stress from work-life imbalance? What dimension of your wheel of life have you been neglecting? Even if your priority is to advance your career, another aspect of your life, such as your physical or mental health, might be throwing the rest of your life out of balance.

Create Your Personalized Plan

Your next step is to create a personalized plan for improving work-life balance. Start with small, achievable goals. For example, if your goal is to spend more time with your family, you can start by planning meals around the dinner table instead of having everyone eat separately. You’re likely setting yourself up for failure if you expect to achieve work-life balance all at once. Instead, try using evidence-based strategies to create an individualized change process where small successes are built upon to achieve an overall goal.

Manage Your Time

Time management is one of the most important aspects of work-life balance as a nurse. When creating your personalized plan, take a look at how you currently spend your time. If you’re spending an inordinate amount of time browsing through social media, unplugging for a few hours a day can relieve stress and free up time for your lifestyle goals. Track how you spend your time to spot activities that are eating up your free time. There’s no shortage of time management apps that can help you do so.

Optimize Your Work Schedule

Work schedules are one of the most important influences on work-life balance. Many nurses elect to work three 12-hour shifts a week to try to tip the work-life balance scales, thinking that four days off will allow them to make the most of their personal time. A four-day weekend is appealing, but it’s important to consider how exhausting this schedule can be. After a 12-, 14-, or even 16-hour workday followed by a long commute home, many nurses can barely muster the energy to eat a meal, let alone make time for personal commitments. A four-day weekend might very well allow for more personal time, but if a nurse is spending that time recovering, it might not be worth it. 

Night shifts, especially rotating shifts, are particularly detrimental to nurse work-life balance. Nurses working overnight shifts can experience disrupted circadian rhythms, leading to insomnia, illnesses, and accidents. They can also experience psychological issues as a result of being isolated from their loved ones. If you’re having trouble finding your work-life balance, speaking with your supervisor regarding your schedule and personal needs may help.

Develop Your Support System

Nurses are better able to care for patients when they have the guidance, encouragement, and support of a team. It’s no different when improving work-life balance. Lifestyle coaches, trusted friends, and experienced coworkers are all sources of support who can help you achieve your career and lifestyle goals. There will always be caring mentors willing to help people who genuinely want to create positive change in their lives. At The University of Texas Permian Basin, you’ll find them in our RN to BS in Nursing program, passing on their experience and supporting nurses as they learn to balance their personal and professional lives.

Learn more about UT Permian Basin’s online RN to BS in Nursing program.

Sources:

https://journals.lww.com/nursing/fulltext/2012/01001/Striving_for_work_life_balance.10.aspx

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2165079914565355?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%20%200pubmed

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037