'Work-based health strategies need to address nurse wellbeing'

Employers' health strategies do not cover 'subjective wellbeing', according to City University London PhD student Jennifer Oates

Nurses’ wellbeing is not being properly addressed through employer-imposed health strategies, a nursing academic has suggested.

City University London PhD student Jennifer Oates said staff wellbeing policies focused on occupational health, without considering ‘subjective wellbeing’ (SWB). 

Ms Oates said she had gleaned new insights into maintaining and enhancing nurses’ happiness through a study exploring nurses’ SWB – a measure of how people experience the quality of their lives through emotional reactions and cognitive judgements.

‘Wellbeing is not about eating five fruit and vegetables,’ Ms Oates said, presenting her work at the RCN International Nursing Research Conference in Edinburgh today.

‘It’s about choice and control, how we spend our time, and it’s about having balance, and opportunities to grow and develop as a person.

‘I haven’t seen any evidence of that being incorporated into health and wellbeing strategies, and I think we need to see a bit more.’

Ms Oates measured the happiness of 237 mental health nurses using SWB measures in an online survey and found this to be lower than in the general population.

However, she did add that this could be related to the fact that mental health nurses are trained to recognise, talk about and articulate emotions.

A small number of the nurses scored highly for SWB and Ms Oates interviewed 27 of them to identify the ways they looked after their own mental health and wellbeing outside of work.

This included:

  • Using mindfulness techniques, being ‘in nature’, taking regular exercise and listening to music
  • Help from partners and support from peers and friends was also a common theme, as was being able to separate work and home life
  • But a significant finding was these nurses’ ability to use skills gained in their work to look after their own wellbeing

One nurse said: ‘I am reasonably good at being a practitioner that applies the theory out there to me. I am someone who lives more as a CBTer [cognitive behavioural therapy] rather than it just being work or a job, and I’ve learned from that – that was tremendous.’

Another nurse talked about the influence of nature on her wellbeing.

‘Stood by a beach, I’m the microcosm and it just reminds me that everything that I come across, everything that I’m experiencing at the minute is really small,’ she said.

‘It’s just, like, it’s nothing – it’s a blip in time and, you know, it kind of gives me some perspective.’

Ms Oates concluded that activities, attitudes and relationships outside of work were very important for mental health nurses' wellbeing.

She said: ‘I think we need to be a bit more nuanced in how we understand how to improve nurses’ health and wellbeing – it is more complex than it is being presented.’

She added that common themes from the study included services being redesigned, jobs changing and colleagues struggling.

‘Even [those with] high SWB described being in environments of high pressure.’

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