Flexibility in nursing or money in nursing…. What would you prefer?
Flexibility in work is one of the most empowering benefits an employer can offer. Can it also be an option for nursing jobs being flexible? Is flexible work in nursing the way of the future? uPaged investigates in this article.
Until recently, millennials have been credited with leading the charge for more flexible work arrangements. They knew what they wanted in their careers – they wanted control… control over when, where and how many hours they work.
As the world of work rearranges itself after two years of covid and lockdowns, it’s not just millennials who prioritise flexibility. Almost every sector of the workforce prefers flexibility. Nurses, irrespective of age and circumstances, are fatigued and burned out after the pandemic. They seek the same flexibility afforded to other sectors. So much so that many are willing to leave nursing and pursue other careers without a second glance back. Not all is lost though because nursing can and does remain an attractive career option – but only if healthcare organisations take steps to keep healthcare practitioners engaged in ways that give them the balance and flexibility they yearn for.
According to a survey by Bain & Co, 57% of women and 66% of men said they expect their workplace to become more flexible after the pandemic subsides. 95% of respondents indicated they would take a flexible arrangement in the next three years if offered by their organisation. People want flexible working hours, job sharing, remote work and fewer working hours for the same pay, lured by promises of short working weeks such as those presented by supporters of Tim Ferris’ concept of working a 4-hour workweek As a way to get the rewards of working without having to wait until the end of your career.
Facts of gender in nursing
Before we do a deep dive into workforce flexibility, we need to smash the gender stereotype attributed to nurses. The reality is, that around 11% of nurses are men. However, here are a few facts:
- Men are less likely to ask for flexible work arrangements than women
- Men are more likely to have their request for flexible workplace arrangements declined
- Lack of flexibility is a major reason for men to consider leaving their job
- Men prefer informal flexible arrangements like flexible start and end times
- Women prefer formal arrangements like part-time work
- 63% of fathers with children living at home now have a partner in the paid workforce
Men and workplace flexibility
Ignoring gender norms and stereotypes can help workplaces become more equitable. As women are typically more likely to be the primary caregiver, it is assumed they need flexible work arrangements more than men. Organisational practices are created on this basis. However, this gender bias completely excludes men.
According to the Diversity Council Australia research, men who don’t have flexibility find it difficult to manage work and life, leading to decreased job satisfaction and an increased turnover rate.
The Workplace Gender Equality Agency reports “that despite 70% of Australian workplaces having a formal policy in place to support flexible work arrangements for their employees, less than 2% have set targets for men’s engagement in flexible work.”
“In place of the traditional ideal worker/breadwinner role, men’s identities, priorities and aspirations in relation to work and family/personal life have diversified. In tandem with this, men’s (and particularly fathers’) needs have also changed, but employers have not kept up with these changes, and as a consequence have been unresponsive to men’s and fathers’ needs”.
“Workplace flexibility is typically accepted as an option for mothers, but when it comes to dads, flexibility is unlikely to be as readily accepted—and in some cases not even considered,” they say.
“Workplace and societal norms play a big role in the lack of flexibility for dads, with many men feeling pressure to conform to stereotypical concepts of the male ‘breadwinner’—they’re applauded for earning the dollars to support their family but frowned upon if they consider flexibility to do the same.”
This stigma prevents men from doing what they really want. Whether it is working on their personal projects, taking care of their children, or spending more time with family.
Women and workplace flexibility
It’s hard to imagine that as recently as 50 years ago, women working in the public service and in many private companies were forced to resign from their jobs when they got married. In the years since women have fought hard to climb the corporate ladder, but it now appears the tables are turning, and their priorities are shifting. Women prefer flexibility. Their focus is more on quality of life than on a huge paycheck. Love, maintaining friendships, taking care of children, or parents, and ticking things off their bucket list… flexibility and meaningful work have overtaken salary at the top of the wishlist for most. Flexible work schedules and balance are winning.
According to the third annual “Women and Workplace” survey by MORE, 65% of university-educated women would prefer more free time over making more money in their jobs. Furthermore, 48% of workers would actually take a pay cut if it meant improving work-life balance and achieving more flexibility and control over how and when they work. Generally, six in ten workers want more flexibility over how they structure their working time.
Small things like a break from an exercise routine and unhealthy meals can take a toll on mental health, and often – it’s not even worth it. According to the survey conducted by MORE, 33% of women feel asking for flexibility is career suicide. However, 67% of women feel that a balance between work and life is possible.
Covid has changed the way almost everyone views work. Most are prioritising their life and well-being. People have redefined their career ambitions and want a flexible career and a fulfilling life. A flexible career doesn’t just mean working from home. It can include flexible scheduling, job sharing, variable start and finish times, different shift lengths, and telecommuting.
Women are the primary caregivers
90% of nurses in Australia are women, and the average age of an Australian nurse is 43.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, primary carers are most commonly female (72%, compared with 50% of other carers in 2018). This varied further by age, with middle-aged primary carers particularly likely to be female (82% of those aged 35–44, and 75% of those aged 45–54). According to different studies, men are more likely to go to the office even when they have flexible work options. The uptake of paid parental leave amongst men is only 1% in Australia. One reason for this is the stigma attached to men and working flexibly.
Masculine norms prevent men from accessing flexible working hours. The stereotypical thinking of a male being a breadwinner is deeply entrenched. Some fathers find it difficult to envision themselves in the caring role. Because of perceived attitudes and lack of support from employers, it may be difficult for them to ask for flexible schedules, part-time work or paid parental leave.
All this causes women to juggle a gazillion things – at home and at work. The situation in their homes can also lead them to have a short-term or long-term career break. According to a 2019 FlexJobs survey, 31% of women who took a career break after having children said they didn’t want to but had to because of a lack of workplace flexibility. The survey was conducted with more than 2,000 women with children under 18. 70% of women said it was difficult for them to enter the workforce after a career break.
Female nurses are juggling multiple roles
But even when they re-enter the workforce, a high level of flexibility is required. As one nurse explained: “A lot of nurses are parents/carers/lots of things that require flexibility. I hold two post-grad qualifications and have 17 years of experience in two specialist areas. I resigned from my permanent nursing role last year as I have three children and needed flexibility – full-time, 0.8 and 9/10/12-hour shifts are unsustainable.”
Another nurse explained: “There is nothing worse than stressing about who’s going to look after the children overnight when it’s time for night shifts. I’m actually looking for another job for this very reason.”
Others find workarounds in other ways: “I now work as a theatre nurse because I could not get flexibility elsewhere. In Theatre, I get no weekends, no nights or public holidays, and yes, I take a hit in my pay packet as a result, but I had no other option.”
One Enrolled Nurse explained her ideal working model: “Permanent night shift with guaranteed shifts the same each fortnight? My dream job! And I actually get to work this roster – it is perfect for me and my family.”
Burnout, Quiet Quitting and Staffing Shortages
LinkedIn is abuzz with stories of burnout and quiet quitting.
And stories like these from a student nurse explain why: “I don’t how the nurses do it where I am on placement – they have a 10.:0 pm finish, then they are back at 7:00 am. So even if you have, say, a half an hour’s drive home, you’re home after 11:00 pm, and a lot of the time, the nurses aren’t out at 10.30 pm, so, by the time you fall asleep it’s well after midnight, then you have to be up at 5:30-ish to get to the hospital by 6:50 am. It’s not safe in my opinion and shouldn’t be acceptable.”
Nurses have risked their lives to help people during the pandemic. Their mental health took a toll. Staffing shortages and increased workloads have led people to leave nursing altogether. Some who have stuck around are grappling with burnout and compassion fatigue.
If nurses, doctors, social workers or other healthcare practitioners check out emotionally from their jobs, how will they be able to provide support to their patients, let alone deliver safe patient care?
If you’re a nurse, how do you approach this topic with your employer and get what you want?
Here are some things to consider:
- Does your workplace have flexible work arrangements?
- What flexible work arrangements are you looking for?
- What are the benefit to you, your employer, and your patients?
Talk to your supervisor
If you don’t ask for what you want, you won’t get it.
Explain your situation to HR, Workforce Managers or your supervisor. Tell them how you can manage your personal needs and career aspirations. For example, you might prefer to work 8-hour shifts or switch to fixed day shifts. Permanent night shifts might even be your thing!
These are very valid requests – explain to your manager what you need and how you will meet the requirements of your role. Prepare to compromise and discuss a few options.
Talk to your colleagues
Remember, job sharing is an option that works well in corporate, and it can work in healthcare as well…
If you are struggling with 12-hour shifts and endless rotating roster cycles, it wouldn’t hurt to talk to your peers. They might want a flexible arrangement as well, and sharing your solution with your Supervisor or HR, may just get the arrangement over the line.
At uPaged, we advocate for nurses. We encourage healthcare facilities to accommodate the needs of nurses. On our app, you can find:
- alternate shift start and finish times (e.g.: after school drop-off and before pickup)
- varying shift lengths (i.e.: 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8-hour shifts)
- work in alternate specialisations, that may help you get the skills and experience you need to transfer to departments providing more flexibility
- boosted rates of pay (just because – every little bit extra helps, even if you can’t get more flexible work arrangements!)