Women’s Experience of Working Shiftwork in Nursing: A Phenomenological Study

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The context of shiftwork in the early 21st century is changing rapidly and in comparison to previous centuries those involved in, or required to work shiftwork are now spread over many different sectors of the community. Shiftwork research stretches back over the last five decades or so, although around thirty years ago the amount of research done in shiftworking industries increased and has continued to do so till today. The overwhelming majority of the body of shiftwork literature explores psychological and physiological responses to working shiftwork, and primarily utilises male subjects in a quantitative framework.
In nursing, which is the context of this study, shiftwork has been a feature for as long as nursing has been around. Here in Australia women comprise the majority of nurses and midwives. Recent figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia report that women comprise 90% of the 373 394 Nurses and Midwives (Nurses and Midwives Board of Australia, 2016). Very little research effort has been concentrated on women’s experience of shiftwork, and how children, their care responsibilities and unpaid housework impact on the women’s experience of shiftwork. Neither in the shiftwork literature, nor the sociological literature has this experience of working shiftwork for women been examined in significant detail.
The research question that this study sought to answer was “what is the lived experience of women who work shiftwork in nursing and care for children?” The aim of the study was to understand the experience and to identify the implications of these two roles on both the women and their families and on their nursing work.
This study has explored the experience of working and living for women with children who undertake nursing shiftwork. To examine this experience, a phenomenological framework, based on Heidegger’s (2008) work was chosen, semi structured interviews (data collection conversations) were used to collect the data from ten participants, all of whom had children and had experienced working nursing shiftwork. Thematic analysis was used to interpret the narratives of the participants.
In the initial phenomenological analysis, themes of Being Guilty and Being Juggler were identified from the participants’ narratives. The theme of Being Guilty centred around the women’s feeling of not being ‘enough’ in all the parts of their lives; that is, not being what they considered was the ‘the perfect mother’, as well as wife, and nursing shiftworker. Within Being Juggler there were three sub-themes that combined to constitute the major theme. The theme Being Juggler focused on the women’s management of the components of their lives and the compromises they made to work and care for their children and home. The themes were then situated within the context of the wider sociological literature, primarily women’s work, gender roles and motherhood. This re-contextualising of the themes within the sociological literature added to the gendered issue for the women who worked shiftwork.
Implications of the findings are that clearly the ‘problem’ of ‘doing it all’ belonged to the women in the study, which mirrors other literature in women’s work. This issue has broad ranging implications for social change in the women’s work area, as well as in nursing over the medium to long term, which would improve women’s ‘lot’ of managing the ‘second’, ‘third’ and fourth’ shift. In the short to medium term, nursing education and nursing services need to provide very clear guidelines for ‘self-care’ when working shiftwork. This education should include the impact of shiftwork on physiological (including sleep) and psychological health, as well as strategies to mediate the effects of shiftwork. Pre-service education of nurses serves as an initial place where education would be of value, however, nursing services should also institute programs into orientations to the workplace as well as new graduate programs.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • O'Brien, Louise, Principal Supervisor
  • Reid, Jo-Anne, Principal Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Grant Number

  • Women
  • Shiftwork
  • Shift work
  • Nurses
  • Qualitative
  • Phenomenology
  • Feminism
  • Nursing
  • Children


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