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Half of nurses dissatisfied with shift patterns

New research has suggested nurses want more choice and stability in the way their shifts are decided.

A University of Southampton study, led by PhD candidate Talia Emmanuel and co-authored by nursing academic Professor Peter Griffiths, surveyed 873 nurses in the UK and Ireland on their feelings towards the way they are rostered.

“It may be possible to provide a greater level of shift satisfaction for nurses”

Peter Griffiths

It found that only 50% of nurses were satisfied with the shift patterns they work. The other 50% were either moderately or very dissatisfied, according to the survey.

Just under two thirds (61%) said they were satisfied when working day shifts only, while 44% of surveyed nurses said they were satisfied when working rotating day and night shifts.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, found a majority (59%) said they had “little or no choice” over their shifts, and even more (68.5%) reported that their employer mostly or completely determined their shift patterns.

Most nurses working permanent day or night shifts (89% and 86% respectively) said they were working their preferred shift pattern, compared to 44% among those who worked rotating shifts.

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Less than half felt they had enough breaks during shifts, and less than a third reported having “good staffing levels”.

The survey, which took place between June and October 2021, also asked nurses about the length of shifts.

Long shifts were less popular than shorter shifts. However, nurses said they liked the lower travel costs and potential for paid overtime associated with working longer hours.

In contrast, nurses associated shorter shifts with a healthier diet and exercise.

The researchers questioned if the positive feelings towards longer shifts were being driven by the cost-of-living crisis.

Ms Emmanuel said of the study: “Although long and rotating shifts were the least popular, the results weren’t completely clear cut.

“They still held some advantages for certain groups of nurses, suggesting there is room for improvement when it comes to balancing satisfaction with shifts and the everyday needs of wards and patient care.”

On rotating shifts, nurses told the study that they would like better-scheduled days off when switching from night to day shifts, or vice versa.

They told researchers that rotas being “consistent and predictable” was important, and many of them said they would prefer to know their shifts at least six weeks in advance.

Predictability was particularly valued among those with childcare duties.

By contrast, many nurses told the study that they disliked shift patterns being decided by staffing needs alone.

Professor Griffiths said modernising rosters, including using software to assist the process, could help increase shift satisfaction in the nursing workforce.

“Incorporating individual preferences into rotas is undoubtedly a difficult task, particularly with staffing pressures,” he said.

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“Ward managers have to balance safety, patient care and fair consideration of requests across their workforce.

“However, with the aid of modern rostering software, it may be possible to provide a greater level of shift satisfaction for nurses, improving their wellbeing and work-life balance, without compromising the quality of care.”

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