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Clearer policies needed for drawing up nursing staff rosters

There is a need for clear policies on rostering that define staff levels, skill mix and shift patterns, according to a UK nursing study.

It found that, often, the rules governing how nursing staff were scheduled were “undocumented, tacit and informal”, and warned that the roster process could be “highly politicised” on the ward.

Robert Drake, an associate lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, attempted to contrast the theoretical perceptions of roster constraints with the subjective, often political, rules governing rosters in practice.

His four-year study examined rosters from 28 wards in 14 hospitals, comparing the number and type of unfilled shifts, and the rules defining the roster and how often they were broken. He also interviewed senior nursing staff and ward managers on their experiences.

“Managers must understand that roster design has a major impact on ward performance and must develop clear roster policies that define staff levels, skill mix, shift patterns and the rules used in preparing the roster,” Mr Drake stated in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

He added: “In practice, rostering nursing staff is often unrecognised, unrewarded and undervalued. Yet, despite four decades of research, operations management has little to offer in terms of faster, safer, fairer or more effective rosters.”

Readers' comments (17)

  • Wow rotas are politicised...... who'd have thought that? Getting to do the off-duty was a much sought after role wherever I have worked and the person lucky enough to have that job had more friends than most.

    Even thirty years ago on an acute mental health unit we had an eye on skill mix and working to staffing levels sufficient to deliver the task on a particular day - and we were allowed to pick our own shifts with the Ward Manager fine tuning where necessary. The only occassion I can remember where he needed to do that was when an unpopular Sister was alone on a late shift and eight people were on the early. Professional maturity kicked in and things were covered.

    Our requirements were basic and clear, enough RNs to do the medicine rounds safely and male and female cover, if they were sufficient then we were sorted. Have the requirements become more elaborate nowadays?

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  • so wish at times we could 'like' comments on here - like in the Guardian rather than Facebook.
    Anonymous | 29-Apr-2014 1:47 pm- says it all!

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  • rostas are supposed to take into account skill mix and enough staff to cover but in my experience this is actually not the case other than specific people always getting the shift they request and others get left with everything else

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  • ours revolved around the needs of the part timers who were very assertive and took over the off duty planning as the person in charge was no good at it and was only too pleased to delegate the task. they also blocked a couple of hours of their own choosing when they disappeared from view, usually to an empty single room, where they were not to be disturbed on any count, often leaving one nurse on the ward on their own, usually those not in their clique. if there was an emergency or their colleague was rushed off her (never a his, they were better favoured) feet they would eventually emerge and criticise all the work which had not been done as a result.

    those who worked full time found it difficult to have any off duty requests met even though they made them rarely and only for something important. trying to book holidays and other events ahead was almost impossible and especially any medical appointment which, unless urgent, could not be taken during working hours and those who worked full time had to cover all the hours others did not want - and do more weekends and unsocial hours.

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  • Thankfully I don't have to worry about rosters now, but in my experience of 30 years, they have always been politicised. What bugged me a lot was those who did not have kids had to work around those who did. Childless people have lives too!! Not saying things shouldn't be flexible (for everyone) and childcare can be difficult to juggle but to never get any requests (only made for something important) honoured doesn't help cohesive teams. Otherwise, what individuals got rostered seemed to depend where they were in the unspoken pecking order of the ''team''

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  • Anonymous | 29-Apr-2014 9:54 pm

    I have to say, being childless, and F/T that is my experience too. I had worked more Christmas's than I care to remember. Past tense, as I have just retired.

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  • from Anonymous | 29-Apr-2014 8:49 pm

    thanks to the two posters above and for pointing out the highly significant 'single and childless' and made to feel guilty if you even mentioned it. of course, it is coming back to me now, what in my rage I forgot to mention.

    as far as pecking order goes I had been on the ward almost 20 years and the little misses who took over the off duty a very short length of time! age and years of experience counted for nothing with them judging by how they treated our permanent night nurse not far off retirement, sitting on each others laps and continuing their personal grooming and chatting/gossiping and mocking her during her morning report when I am sure she wished to leave and go home to sleep as quickly as possible. She was an excellent nurse but for some reason things, beyond her control, often seemed to go badly wrong on her shifts.

    I am also now retired and rather chaotic as i refuse (seem unable) to stick to any sort of time plan, and some memories just stick!

    Fortunately the job itself, experience, learning and standards of care and working conditions were second to none and before these two Mademoiselles arrived on the scene, and all of my other colleagues left, we were greatly appreciated by all of our patients and were on the whole a happy and integrated interdisciplinary team made up of a group of highly autonomous professional practitioners working in a collegial atmosphere with excellent communications and open dialogue where errors were freely admitted and corrected with the support of our colleagues and without fear of reprimand and any difficulties regularly discussed.

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  • I too work full time and don't have children, and the needs of the nurses who are parents have always been put first. However, the job I have now is much better now, and the off duty is fairer.

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  • What I have noticed is the lazy people don't all work on a shift together, the person who does the shift pattern always make sure there is a mix. So what happens is the lazy people who have connections to the person doing the roster then gets to work on the easier side of the ward and the hard workers get to do the heavy part of the ward.
    At the end of a shift one lot looks ready to fall flat out and the other lot still appear fresh as though they can go home and start on their house work.

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  • How true ,poor skill mix ,lazy staff always get great shifts and easy area to work when I question this I am told because you work hard we know it will be done well so it's best to put you on the area that's busy ?to see someone start at 09.00 when you have started at 08.00 have a 30 mins tea break
    And I don't even get one ,they also get the holidays that they request ..

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  • Anonymous | 30-Apr-2014 10:08 pm

    Anonymous | 30-Apr-2014 10:25 pm

    good further observations


    "At the end of a shift one lot looks ready to fall flat out and the other lot still appear fresh as though they can go home and start on their house work."

    usually the ones as well who are 'in' with the boss as they appear efficient, well organised and kind caring nurses and often get the promotions. those who actually put their patients first, strive to do their best and are rushed off their feet are the 'black sheep' told it is up to them to organise their work better!!! What really matters is that it is the patients who know which nurses they prefer and the ones who can go home with a clear conscience.

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  • Always a good window on the ward culture, off duty.

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  • perhaps an area for research to see where improvements are to be made.

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  • staff rosters have always been a way to "punish" staff that aren't "one of us"...... as as male nurse who's unable to "gossip" I've always found that..
    Fact of life....

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  • Anonymous | 3-May-2014 9:30 am

    manipulation pure!

    can't you form a stronger 'out group' to push the gossiping 'in group' out and then make yours the 'in'. that would teach them!

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  • Not only do the 'in group' get what they want from the roster. The roster is also used to the advantage of the bully.
    At this time I know one carer is being treated unfairly by some other carers, and the senior carer who has been put in charge of the roster, gives this carer shift patterns that would make one want to cry.
    Another observation : Not many nurses on my ward likes nights, so more night shifts are given to nurses not in the 'in group'.

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  • Glad its not just my ward then. When certain people do not work any bank holidays and others get 3-4 not including Christmas, when I said to the boss I have done my share this year to be told if you not happy with the off duty then leave!! OK thank you and going and of May!! I know who will miss me working there first and it will not be me. I understand there can be problems when you have children but if you have a contract to work all 3 shifts then surely you should take this into account when sorting child care? Instead we have I'll do earlies on these days, no lates at all and I'll pick which nights to do as well. Makes it even worse when the band 6 who does the off duty gives herself self set shifts and woe betide anyone who may need a week off during the time schools are off if you not in the in group!!! Only work 30 hrs thankfully but have seen some of the full timers who do not have children have the most horrendous runs of shifts, when the people who have done the off duty are challenged about if they would like it you can guess what the answer is!!!

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