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Is Nurse Work-Life Balance a Myth?

Analysis  |  By Jennifer Thew RN  
   February 20, 2018

One nurse leader is on a mission to see whether the concept of work-life balance exists.

Work-life balance is a hot concept in the nursing profession. We hear we need it. We want to achieve it. But does it really exist?

That question has piqued the interest of Adele A. Webb, PhD, RN, FNAP, FAAN, senior academic director of workforce solutions at Minneapolis-based Capella University.

"People think they need it," she says. "But, do they? Can you ever have it? Or are people chronically dissatisfied because it's like a unicorn … they're chasing something that doesn't exist."

Balance vs. satisfaction

Webb plans to study and delve into the concept of work-life balance and nurses. She says recent conversations with nurse executives, including those at HealthLeaders Media's 2017 CNO Exchange, left her realizing that the idea needs to be better defined.

"Years ago, I read an article called Balance is Bunk!," she recalls, "and [the point] was you never have 50% this and 50% that. Sometimes work takes more, sometimes family takes more."

For example, if a nurse must take off from work to stay home with a sick child, on that day, family needs more focus than work. And there are times, especially for those who work weekends or holidays, where work will eclipse family.

Still, Webb understands the desire behind the idea of work-life balance.

"What does work-life balance really mean? It means you're happy. Well, what does happy mean? Happy means you're satisfied with what you're doing," she says. "I think what people really want is life satisfaction. They can be satisfied at home and satisfied at work even if it's not balanced."

Generational differences

Another question Webb says she is pondering is: "How then do we address or encourage satisfaction and what does that mean?"

She has noticed, even among her own family, that different generations of nurses crave different things.

"I have a daughter and a granddaughter who are nurses. My granddaughter is definitely a millennial. She's 24, new in her career, and what she wants is opportunity," Webb says. "She's always reading, trying to better her skills, and to learn something new."


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Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.

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