Nurse and mother: Scared to speak out on rosters


Liesl is a nurse and a mother of young kids who finds rostering a vexed issue – she can feel scared to speak out to ask for a suitable roster. How do we keep work-life balance at these times in our lives?

Liesl: The issue of rostering is clearly a universal topic for discussion given our female-dominated workforce. I have been a registered nurse for 12 years. Prior to having children I didn’t really have any roster preferences. I used to request every second weekend off with my husband, other than that I worked whatever I was given.

In the seven years since I became a mother I have tried a few different jobs in order to create work-life balance. I did general practice for a short time at a significant pay cut and lost my annual leave and sick leave, however that wasn’t the job for me at the time.

I also worked as a CNE, which helped as I worked part time and could drop off and pick up my kids from daycare while my husband worked and studied. That worked for us for a couple of years. This was challenging for me in that I changed hospitals and worked outside my speciality area and was concerned about losing my clinical skills in this time.

However my passion has always been in my critical care speciality and I returned to this specialty area and remain there on a part time contract. Since my return and in a short time I have had several different people write my rosters, each of them having their own idea about what is fair and reasonable.

The thing that I find frustrating is that being available on a 24/7 roster is difficult at many stages of our lives. There are those with childcare responsibilities, those who are carers for aging parents, those who want to get involved in educating others or furthering their own education. As a profession we need to find a way to roster our staff that allows for all of us to have work-life balance no matter what our reason for it is.

Retention of skilled senior staff is vital to support safe patient care and development of junior or transitional staff.

It is not acceptable to state that people should simply work casually or work elsewhere to suit their preferences. Why should we lose our sick leave, annual leave and salary packages because we choose to become parents or because our parents need us to care for them or because we are so passionate about developing the future of nursing and teaching others?

Have we not invested enormous time and energy (and money!) studying and developing our skills in our specialist areas? Does that not make us valuable enough to be flexible?

As a young person when I dreamed of becoming a nurse I also dreamed of becoming a mother and so many people around me told me how nursing would adapt for me at different stages of life. Now I find my life needs to constantly change for nursing.

Are you able to have work-life balance as a nurse?

Previously on Nurse Uncut:



  1. One of the best options is agency work as you choose your own roster and with a critical care background, you’re skills are in short supply.

  2. this is a problem in my workplace – mothers get preference , no nights , only day shifts etc . It also effects skill mix.
    All the other staff who don’t have kids have to be available for a full rotating roster! Seems unfair to me – everyone has things in their life they’d like to do not just mums

    • If you choose to be a mum one day then you will understand the need for flexibility on it. We all eventually have our turn of being a mum and then our kids grow and we get back into the workforce more. In saying that though mum or not I still have to do my allocated night shifts but I have the flexibility to space them out. I have 2 a fortnight and I do mine on Friday nights. It’s suits our ward and some of the girls don’t have kids and want to go out with their friends on Friday nights. So it goes both ways. Perhaps we are lucky that we have a good mix of people who prefer the early shifts which allows me to do more late for school drop of reasons.

    • Dear Ash,
      If a nurse has been granted a flexible workplace agreement from the nsw healthcare award, then this is something the nursing manager would have to review and approve. These are not limited to parents but other reasons as well. I agree there is a limit to what can be achieved in a workplace if skill mix is effected but I have witnessed poor skill mix rosters because staff need to work shifts patterns because of financial reasons.

    • The issue with your comment though is a lack of understanding of the responsibilities of mothers. Looking after and caring for children is not just “something they’d like to do”. They HAVE to do it! It so incredibly hard trying to juggle the needs of caring for your own children, providing financially and keeping a job and career going. I’m sure many non-parents would have things in life they’d like to do, the question is whether these other things are non-negotiable responsibilities. I’ve also worked with many staff who aren’t available for a rotating roster and make many requests for other things. A little understanding and flexibility go a long way.

  3. My workplace has been quite good with rostering in that you can request to work only when you have childcare organized because they understand childcare has to be set days. However, we still do our required number of night shifts and have to be available for the variety of shifts which I think is completely fair.

  4. I agree Ash-can create resentment in the workplace. I once worked with a nurse who announced that because she was a mum she should never have to work Christmas!

  5. Sorry but it is a personal choice to have children. You should not expect special treatment for rotas which always comes at the expense of someone without children. I am a mum and made sure that i remained flexible during my nursing career.

  6. I’m a mum to 2 little kids. I do need flexibility for my roster and I made that clear from day one. I can’t work Wednesdays because I have managed to fit my kids things in on those days, regular physio appointments, their gymnastics and taekwon do. I’m happy to do nights but just not bunched together and some days I find it harder to do certain shifts like a Friday early as my hubby starts at 6am so I can’t get kids to before school care. It’s not my lack of not wanting to do those shifts but it’s my responsibility to my family. It’s not fair that they miss out on regular sporting because their mum works all different shifts.
    I also think nurses in general should be able to ask for a certain shift off each week to be able to participate in a regular sport. My work was happy to put me on regular Friday night shifts so I could ensure I could be at my son’s soccer game on Saturday mornings. I think open communication about it is good. Maybe more nurses could then compete in regular netball comp etc..

  7. Contentious issue. I have experienced and still experience the challenges of both sides of this issue. I think it is important to remember that often nursing can be a life long career, and as such we will inevitably experience both sides of this situation. Caring responsibilities (for children or adults) are not the only things that impact upon work life balance. I have known staff that need to work particular shifts for health, financial, study, hobbies and preference reasons. My thoughts: are those needing roster requests for reasons other than caring still considered difficult? The fact that someone has children highlights why they need roster considerations.
    Working casual or agency limits a nurses ability to become part of a team and local culture, either of which can impact care provision. Maybe as a profession we need to
    look at other developed countries to identify processes they have in place. Keeping nurses in the work force is essential with the forecasted shortage, and not discriminating against them whether they have other responsibilities, needs or preferences.


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