Shift patterns: why nurses deserve greater say over when they work

Ability to plan around professional commitments is key to nurses’ work-life balance – and could cut numbers wanting to quit NHS

Picture: Jim Varney

Could giving nurses in the NHS greater choice and control over their working patterns convince them to stay in the health service?

It is no panacea for the myriad problems facing a profession that is underpaid, understaffed, overwhelmed and still in the throes of a pandemic. But is surely something that – when we (ever) emerge from this health emergency – could be both achievable and life-changing for many staff.

Work-life balance is hard to find for too many nurses

Findings of our joint survey with the University of Southampton point to work-life balance – or more precisely imbalance – being a difficulty for 28% of respondents. While one in ten of 2,198 nursing staff told us they were very unsatisfied with their work-life balance.

Okay, this survey was carried out as COVID-19 infections soared, but concerns about work-life balance are not new, our finding simply adds to the evidence.

No one enters nursing expecting office hours, but we know those exiting the profession often cite the inability to balance their personal and professional lives as a reason.

Control over working patterns

Almost half of our survey respondents (43%) wanted more control over their working patterns, reflecting the perennial complaint among many that they find it hard to plan their lives around work.

This chimes with a growing debate among nursing students about self-rostering for clinical placements. Many students tell us how much they appreciate being able to plan around their placement commitments.

There has also been some promising results where this approach has been implemented for nurses. The Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust in London found self-rostering reduced staff turnover by 12.6 percentage points.

While opinion has long been divided over 12-hour shifts (our latest survey backs this up), the need for control and choice over working times seems more clear-cut. Nurses simply need to see their rota sufficiently in advance to allow them to plan childcare and a multitude of other personal commitments.

The pandemic has forced many positive changes on the NHS

Amidst the gloom, the past year has seen seismic, positive changes in how the NHS is run.

It’s surely time there was a similar shift by more employers to give staff a greater autonomy in shaping their own working patterns.

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