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How to balance shift work with family life


Shift work is an occupational hazard of nursing jobs and it's not ideal if you're raising a family. However, there are some simple things you can do to lessen the impact of an irregular work pattern.




In today's 24/7 world, more and more people are working outside the normal 9 to 5 pattern. If one parent has a non-standard work schedule, it can be inconvenient. If both do, it can be a major challenge, particularly when it comes to parenting.

Hospital nursing jobs have always involved shift work, so it's an issue that's familiar to most nurses, whether they work in the NHS or the private sector. However, as it's increasingly likely these days that a nurse's spouse or partner may also have an irregular work pattern, the problem of balancing shift work and family life is a hot topic for our times.

Research has shown that having just one parent working a non-standard shift pattern can affect a child's behaviour and wellbeing. In 2018, researchers at the University of Washington in the USA found that there were significant differences depending on the gender of the parent and of the child. Where a mother was on a rotating shift or split shift, this was associated with greater problems amongst boys of all ages and older girls. In the case of a father on a similar shift pattern, this was more likely to cause issues with younger girls.

So, are there ways to reduce the risk of shift work impacting negatively on family life? Fortunately for all those hardworking nurses who are also parents, the answer is 'yes'. Here are a few ideas...

Share your schedule


"I told you I was working this evening." How many times have you had to say it? Many children are not great at listening to or remembering dates and times. Why not create a visual timetable or calendar showing your work commitments and display it somewhere it can be easily accessed by everyone in the family?

Plan ahead


Most children thrive on order and continuity. Working around your shifts, make sure you plan some regular weekly family activities that they can rely on.

Take advantage of your work breaks


If may be difficult for nurses, but if possible, schedule your work breaks so that you can call the kids for a quick chat at key times, for example after school or before bedtime.

Show them you care


One of the main issues for children of shift workers is a feeling of being ignored or neglected. Take opportunities to connect with them and reassure them that you're thinking about them, for example by putting a note in their lunch box or next to their bed for when they wake up.

Talk about it


When you're tired and stressed out, it's easy to become introverted and shut your family out. Make the effort to discuss things openly, particularly how your kids feel about your work and how it affects them. It's positive for them to have an opportunity to express their feelings, rather than bottling things up, and it will do you good too.

If you’re struggling to combine your shift work with family life, then it may be time to look at your job options. At Sanctuary Health, we recruit for a number of nursing positions, with both locum and permanent roles available. Why not take a look at our latest nursing vacancies to see if there is anything more suitable for you and your family?
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