Nurses and other hospital workers, especially those who work long hours or the night shift, often report trying to juggle the demands of the job and family obligations. A study out today by The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS) suggests that the higher the work-family conflict the greater the risk that health care workers will suffer from neck and other types of musculoskeletal pain.
"Work-family conflict can be distracting and stressful for hospital employees," says lead author of the study Seung-Sup Kim, a postdoctoral scientist and professorial lecturer in environmental and occupational health at SPHHS. "Hospitals that adopt policies to reduce the juggling act might gain a host of benefits including a more productive workforce, one that is not slowed down by chronic aches and pains," Kim said.
The study fits into a growing body of evidence showing that conflict between increased workloads or long hours can spill over into domestic life and adversely affect workers on the front lines of patient care. Other research suggests that work-home conflict can put workers at risk of depression, substance abuse and even heart disease. But could the stress of trying to care for multiple sick patients on a hospital ward and manage the domestic front actually lead to physical pain?
Kim and principal investigator, Glorian Sorensen, PhD, Professor of Society, Human Development and Health at Harvard School of Public Health and other researchers decided to try to find out by conducting a survey among 2,000 hospital workers who provided direct patient care in two large Boston hospitals. Nearly 80 percent of the workers took the survey and the team ended up including a total of 1,199 patient care workers in the current analysis. The team assessed work-family conflict with five questions. They asked workers if they agreed with statements like: "The amount of time my job takes up makes it difficult to fulfill family or personal responsibilities" and "My job produces strain that makes it difficult to fulfill my family or personal responsibilities."
In addition, the researchers used a questionnaire to assess how much the participants in the study experienced musculoskeletal pain during the previous three months. And they also took note of factors that might affect the outcome of the study, such as the amount of on-the-job lifting or pulling-which could strain muscles and lead to pain.
The researchers discovered that nurses and other employees who reported high conflict between their job duties and obligations at home had about a 2 times greater chance of suffering from neck or shoulder pain in the last three months. And workers with the highest work-life imbalance had nearly a 3 times greater risk of reporting arm pain during that period.
All told, the researchers found that workers who reported lots of conflict had more than a 2 times greater chance of experiencing any kind of musculoskeletal pain. At the same time, the research found no lasting link between this kind of ongoing conflict and lower back pain, which might be caused when hospital workers lift heavy patients on a regular basis, Kim said.