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Agency nursing: The key to work-life balance?

Last Updated: 19-11-2013

WorkPac HealthCare agency nurses

Imagine if you could dictate the days and the hours you wanted to work and achieve the ever-elusive work-life balance? Well, as an agency nurse, you can, writes Karen Keast.

According to an Australian study, 60 per cent of people are not working the hours they want.

University of South Australia Centre for Work and Life director Professor Barbara Pocock, in her 2008 presentation of Work-Life Balance in Australia, revealed most Australians are either working more or less hours than they want to, with only 40 per cent achieving their ideal fit with their actual and preferred working hours.

Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority, almost 85 per cent, of people content with their preferred working hours were also satisfied with their work-life balance.

In comparison, only 66.9 per cent of those wanting

fewer hours were satisfied with their work-life balance and 74.9 per cent of those wanting more hours were satisfied with their work-life balance.

Professor Pocock’s presentation stated: “Significantly better work-life outcomes occur for those workers who can get a better fit between the hours they work and their preferences.”

As Australians continue to walk the tight-rope in search of the ideal balancing act between work and lifestyle, many nurses are turning to agency nursing in a bid to control the number of hours they work, and at the times they want to work.

And it’s not just working mums and dads, striving to juggle family commitments, who are searching for flexibility in their shifts.

A wide range of nurses are opting for agency work to suit their lifestyle, including nursing students balancing study with shifts, travelling nurses combining work with sight-seeing and nurses looking to balance work with caring for a sick family member.

Brisbane-based Registered Nurse Alison Kristensen chose agency work over that of a full-time employer to suit her lifestyle.

For Alison, who has 25 years’ experience in nursing, it was a decision that enabled her to take ownership of her work-life balance.

Alison has spent the past six years working for Healthcare Australia brand Nursing Agency Australia while, at times, also pursuing her other passion – a career in sales.

“I personally love the autonomy NAA provides me with, as I can decide when and where I work and feel like I am my own boss,” she said.

“I also enjoy the flexibility of being able to participate in week-day business and social events and the freedom to decide when I take a day off or holiday.”

With more than 20 years’ experience in the healthcare industry, WorkPac HealthCare CEO Stephen Thomas, who is also a Registered Nurse, said nurses often turn to agency work as the solution to their search for work-life balance.

Mr Thomas said agency nursing provided the flexibility that full-time employers could not, particularly appealing to overseas nurses wanting to work and travel in Australia, students combining study and work, Reservists wishing to balance their service commitments with defence force commitments and, of course, busy working parents.

“Many people find that the agency is a good balance for family commitments or if you have a partner that’s also a shift worker and the primary bread winner,” he said.

“If you are in the stay-at-home role, being able to work around your partner’s commitments, you have a higher flexibility working through an agency than working for an employer.”

Mr Thomas said while agency nursing had a range of benefits, such as professional development opportunities, nurses also had a say when it came to which facilities they wanted to work at, enabling them to control their travel distances.

Most importantly, he said nurses could determine what days and shifts they wanted to work and how often.

“It’s entirely up to you,” he said.

“On a regular basis you are requested to submit your availability and we factor that into our system.

“If we have a job order for a week or a day, only those people who have said they are available come up in our search.

“And the more that you say you are available the more work that will come your way.”

One WorkPac HealthCare nurse, a mum, has designed her schedule so she only works at one particular hospital and only for night duty, to suit her family commitments.

Another nurse has a child with a disability and works around her child, depending on how her child is feeling on that particular day.

With a 24-hour staffed hotline, the nurse is able to ring WorkPac HealthCare and cancel her shift if needed, as long as she provides a minimum of two hours’ notice.

Healthcare Australia recruitment consultant Christine Lingard said nurses often turned to the healthcare recruitment solutions provider in search of roles that offer flexibility with stability.

“Nurses from every age group join Healthcare Australia in order to work more often because they want to supplement their full-time income,” she said.

“We then find many nurses, especially working mums, want to work less so they can have more time at home.

“(Other nurses)..are often stressed, their hours are pushed and they crave flexibility.

“Many nurses are also unhappy because their full-time roster does not suit their current lifestyle, so they may find it difficult to work night shifts but continue to be rostered on.”

Ms Lingard said it was not only vital for nurses to achieve their ideal work-life balance, she said it was also possible.

“…we offer agency positions that let nurses decide when and where they work. They can then adjust their work to match their current lifestyle and income needs,” she said.

“It is extremely important for nurses to achieve a healthy work-life balance as they are then much happier and more productive when they are at work.”

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