Work-Family Conflict Common Among Registered Nurses, Study Shows

September 15, 2006

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – In a national survey of registered nurses, half reported chronic interference of work with their home lives, such as being unable to spend the time they wanted with their families, according to researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and colleagues.

“Work-family conflict has significant implications for nurses in terms of personal health, their ability to provide quality care and for the nursing profession itself,” said Joseph Grzywacz, Ph.D., an associate professor of family and community medicine and lead author on the study, reported in the current issue of Research in Nursing & Health.

The study is the first to provide reliable estimates of how frequently work-family conflict occurs among nurses.

Work-family conflict refers to situations in which the demands and responsibilities of work and family roles are incompatible in some respect. It can occur in both directions. For example, family can interfere with work if a worker is distracted by marital problems or a sick child. And, work can interfere with family when work schedules make it impossible to attend family functions or complete household chores.

Work-family conflict can exacerbate the current nursing shortage by discouraging people from entering the profession or prompting them to change careers, Grzywacz said. In addition, work-family conflict is associated with lower job satisfaction, fatigue, burnout, and emotional distress or depressive symptoms, according to research.

“Work-family conflict has the potential to undermine nurses’ ability to provide high-quality care,” Grzywacz said.

The study targeted registered nurses (RNs) who live in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), which applies to 78 percent of all RNs. The researchers randomly selected 40 of the 51 MSAs and 4,000 RNs from those areas. The response rate to a questionnaire about work-family conflict was 48 percent, with 1,906 nurses completing the survey.

To assess work interference with family, nurses were asked how often their jobs interfered with their home lives or their responsibilities at home, such as yard work, cooking, cleaning, repairs, shopping, paying the bills or child care, or kept them from spending the amount of time they would like with their families.

Interference of family with work was assessed by asking about home life interfering with their jobs or careers, or their responsibilities, such as getting to work on time or accomplishing daily tasks, or how often it kept them from spending the amount of time they would like on their jobs or career activities.

Half of the nurses reported chronic (one day a week or more) work interference with family and 41 percent reported episodic (less than monthly or 1 to 3 days per month) interference with family. When it came to family interference with work, only 11 percent reported chronic interference and 52 percent reported episodic interference.

Grzywacz said the large number of nurses reporting chronic interference of work with family is significant because research has shown that it is the intensity of work interference with family that can undermine nurses’ health and wellbeing and contribute to intentions to leave nursing.

He said the data is important because it provides information for decision makers to evaluate the significance of the problem. The researchers wrote that future studies should determine if flexible work arrangements, such as job sharing, reduce the frequency of conflict.

Sixty-three percent of nurses responding worked in hospitals and 14 percent in ambulatory care settings. Sixty-four percent provide direct care and 18.5 percent were managers. Most of the nurses (63 percent) work day shift, and 20 percent worked evenings. Others worked rotating shifts or non-standard shifts.

In addition to Grzywacz, researchers were Michael Frone, Ph.D., and Carol S. Brewer, Ph.D., both with State University of New York at Buffalo, and Christine T. Kovner, Ph.D., with New York University.


Media Contacts: Karen Richardson,; Shannon Koontz,; at 336-716-4587

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 30th in primary care, 41st in research and 14th in geriatrics training among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 32nd in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.

Media Relations