Finding a Work-Life Balance as a Nurse Leader

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Nurse leaders who balance their careers and personal lives can be happier and more productive.

As the administrative and clinical heads of nursing staffs, chief nursing officers (CNOs) have important jobs with hectic schedules. Nurse leaders, particularly those who are new to the position, often struggle to balance their work and home lives.

Scientific studies and anecdotal evidence show that nurse leaders who strike a balance between their career and personal lives are happier and more productive.

When working in a caring profession, nurses must take the time to care for themselves, Terry Chase, RN, patient and family education program coordinator at Craig Hospital in Colorado, said in “Nurse Leaders Offer Wisdom on Achieving Work–Life Balance.”

“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,” Chase said. “Often this move toward burnout is gradual and insidious.”

As a nurse manager, striking a work life balance is crucial to personal well-being and improved patient outcomes. Registered nurses (RNs) who are enrolled in Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs, including online DNP programs, learn what makes an effective nurse manager, including the importance of harmonizing personal and professional responsibilities.

Achieving Work-Life Balance

Maureen Swick, RN, former CEO of the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE), said work-related fatigue (sometimes called burnout) as a result of stress can impact nursing leadership. Swick recommended several best practices to keep nurse leaders happy and healthy:

Keep an adequate staffing ratio

Hospitals and medical centers that are short staffed are known to have patients with an increased rate of falls, infections and illnesses, which can lead to CNO stress. The correct number of nurses working to adequately serve patient needs reduces the chances of patient illnesses or injuries. An appropriate nurse-to-patient ratio reduces CNO stress.

Encourage teamwork

The entire staff, including other nurses, physicians and other members of the clinical support team, must work together toward a common goal. The resulting teamwork makes the job easier and creates a healing atmosphere for patients and their families.

Develop resilience

Resilience – the ability to face stressful situations and remain positive – is critical to nurse leadership. Since nurse leaders are role models, they must be able to work through any situation with a healthy and positive mindset.

In addition to Swick’s recommendations, other nurse leaders have advice as well. Healthcare leadership expert Rose O. Sherman, RN, said some newly minted nurse leaders set unrealistic expectations for themselves.

“For many nurse leaders, the toughest parts of the job are managing themselves and putting boundaries around their work. This is especially true for new leaders who are struggling to accomplish everything that is expected of them in their leadership roles,” Sherman said in “Help New Managers Set Work Boundaries” published in Emerging RN Leader. “The problem with not having boundaries is that the pace of work can become unsustainable.”

In the article, Sherman also provided suggestions for new nurse managers to work toward a work-life balance:

Learn to say no

Nurse leaders do not have to accept every project or take on every job. By respecting their emotional, physical and mental limits, nurse leaders can learn to say no and move away from destructive patterns that may lead to burn out.

Set boundaries

Nurse leaders have the right to set boundaries in the workplace. Those who do not may feel drained, overextended and treated unfairly.

Identify feelings

Use feelings (such as discomfort, resentment and guilt) to identify boundaries and when they are being overstepped.

Sherman also said the work environment plays a key role in developing a work-life balance.

“Your environment can either support your setting boundaries – making it easier for you – or present obstacles to boundary setting – making it more challenging for you. That is why nurse executives play such a key role in making it OK (even demanding it) for their leaders to set boundaries,” Sherman said.

Nurse Leaders Leading by Example

In addition to ensuring their own work-life balance, nurse leaders are responsible for ensuring that the nursing staff keeps a balance.  Chase, in the “Nurse Leaders Offer Wisdom on Achieving Work–Life Balance” article, said nurse leaders should require staff to take lunch breaks.

In her work as a mentor, she asked three nurses to write a “joy list,” which turned out to be a beneficial exercise.

“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 said.

Learning what makes an effective nurse manager is just one component of working as a leader. At Duquesne University, RNs enrolled in the online DNP program learn creative leadership skills by thinking outside the box. The program encourages nurse leaders to learn strategies that will inspire staff nurses and support healthy patient outcomes.

About Duquesne University’s Online DNP Program

Duquesne University’s online DNP program prepares RNs to lead hospital, medical centers and other healthcare organizations. The University’s DNP program provides students with the confidence and knowhow to develop nursing team synergy and promote healthy patient outcomes.

Duquesne University has been repeatedly recognized as a leader in nursing education, most recently among the “Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs” by U.S. News & World Report. The online DNP program provides one-on-one faculty mentorships and a 100 percent online curriculum. For more information, contact Duquesne University now.




Nurse Leaders Offer Wisdom on Achieving Work-Life Balance:

Avoiding Burnout in Nurse Leaders: Wolters Kluwer

Help New Managers Set Work Boundaries: Emerging RN Leader