An investigation into the experiences of nurses exposed to shift work is shining new light on coping strategies health care workers go through, and is emphasising the importance of strong front-line management.

Griffith University’s Jane Gifkins, under the supervision of the Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing’sRebecca Loudoun, published the research as a result of her master’s research.

“In Australia, with our ageing population and the increase in chronic disease, the healthcare needs of our society are increasing, and nurses need to do shift work to provide 24-hour care to their patients,” Gifkins said.

“There’s a lot of negative impacts working in shifts, for example, It’s well researched, but it’s not generally known in society that for instance, shift work is associated with breast cancer.”

“Obviously the most common complaint for shift workers is sleeplessness, fatigue and tiredness, but in spite of there seems to be a lot of shift workers who are able to keep working for many years in shifts.”

For her published work, Gifkins did a case study analysis comparing experienced nurses and newly graduated nurses from Griffith University. Her work looks into how they were able to cope with shift work, what strategies they were able to implement and whether there were any differences between experienced and new nurses.

After doing qualitative research with both groups, Gifkins found that experienced nurses, who were mostly older, preferred shift work while new nurses said they would prefer not to work in that manner.

“There were conversations about these generation Y people and how their preference is to organise their work around their life, whereas the older more experienced nurses would be probably the other way around, they would organise their life around their work,” Gifkins said.

When it comes to coping strategies, Gifkins found that nurses made sleep and rest a priority to be able to deal with their schedules, having strong support from family and friends and flexible shift arrangements.

“Both groups of nurses describe coping was being able to request rosters or shifts, special days off, appointments, holidays and that is followed up by the theory where some control or some capacity over your work diminishes some of the stress,” Gifkins said.

Experienced nurses detailed the importance of social support at home from their family and friends whereas inexperienced nurses described feeling disconnected from their social support in a time frame of 3-6 months working in shifts.

When it comes to the health field, Gifkins believes that shift work is not going away anytime soon, so the role of senior nursing managers are vital when it comes to lowering the attrition rate of graduate nurses.

“I know it comes up a lot, but if nurses have a good nursing manager it can make a difference in the outcome of whether nurses stay or leave andtheir health and wellbeing as well,” Gifkins said.

“Nursing managers who hear and understand as far as rostering can make a difference.”