Research Output

Other people's families: Tensions at work in the NHS

  This paper draws on research conducted among nurses and in an acute NHS Trust. Interviews and a questionnaire survey with nursing and midwifery staff at all levels and across sites and disciplines covered policy usage, attitudes and experiences of balancing a career in the NHS with non-work life. In light of serious staffing problems, the promise of working hours and shift patterns to suit care responsibilities was used to attract new recruits and previously registered nurses and to retain existing staff over the lifecourse. However, the nature of nursing and midwifery work presented significant barriers to flexibility: low staff substitutability, resource constraints and time-critical tasks in a 24/7 service context. This paper focuses on two of the many tensions uncovered by the research. The first surrounded time off at short notice for family reasons. A cultural pressure not to take time off work and employee guilt about doing had arisen essentially because of low staffing levels and the constant pressure to minimise costs. The second tension was created by unequal access to flexible working between non-parents, who worked flexibly for the service and parents, who worked flexibly for family reason. Parents, particularly part-timers, worked fewer nights and weekends than non-parents suggesting an active avoidance of “shift-parenting” which non-parents had to compensate for by working more unsocial hours. The findings underline the potentially damaging effects on employee relations of simply appending a work-life balance agenda to existing working practices.

  • Date:

    30 June 2004

  • Publication Status:



Wise, S. (2004). Other people's families: Tensions at work in the NHS


working hours; shift patterns; care responsibility; flexible working; nurses; NHS; Mid-wifery; work-life balance;

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