Leading a 24/7 Operation With a 9-5 Life

Jessica Guzzetti, MBA, BSN, RN, CCHP-RN | Updated/Verified: Apr 29, 2024

The 24/7, 365 care delivery model is a reality for many nurse leaders. That's why I like to say that outpatient nursing is the unicorn of nursing – one of the few patient-facing settings where you ever have "off" time as a leader. No weekends, no holidays, no nights, and rarely any associated "call" responsibilities. Where does that leave the remaining nurse leaders? I struggle to walk the fine line between being available, having a presence, and setting boundaries to sustain work-life balance. I have experienced both sides of the fence.

The reality of nursing is that we never stop being a nurse. We never stop caring. We never stop answering the call. We never fail to rise to the challenge and occasion. We are never indeed "off". How can you lead your 24/7 operation while participating in your 9-5 life?

How can you wear your many hats (nurse, leader, parent, friend) and give to all while also giving to yourself?

There is a secret sauce. That secret sauce is simple: don't drink the Kool-Aid our culture has cultivated. I'll tell you about that flavor. The flavor I like to call "Live to Work."

Our culture champions the modern-day professional martyr. Sacrifice equals success – that is a lie! If you're not willing to sacrifice, you won't succeed.

The Price Tag of Becoming a Rising Leader

Professional success is not “full-price at Walmart” steep; it's more to the tune of your local artisanal natural grocery. If you're looking for the occasional discount deal, you're out. You don't get to take that PTO, even though one of the reasons you took the job is for the generous amount of time off you accrue. It's an unspoken, silently imposed markup by your employer and yourself.

We've all been there. How will you ever get caught up when you already barely stay afloat? Will the team be okay? Will they have someone to help if needed? Are you being selfish? Are you letting them down? I'm here to give you a few tips I've learned as a leader in inpatient and outpatient settings.

Everyone Deserves to Work to Live

Being successful in a 24/7 leadership role and participating in your 9-5 life is possible. The key elements: Do not self-impose unrealistic obligations. Communicate. Empower your team. Champion the same lifestyle and goals for them. Other tips:

  • Share responsibility by networking with your peers. Connect with other leaders (think other clinics, floors, etc.) who can cover for you. Tap into that support system by trading and taking turns to support one another's teams and operations when you need that break.
  • Set healthy boundaries. When interviewing for a leadership role, communicate your needs, expectations, commitment to life, and priorities outside the job. Determine whether you will have your leader's support and what personal-professional habits they cultivate – and be willing to hold them accountable to those boundaries!
  • Trust your team. It would be best to trust that the team you have prepared, mentored, and molded is competent to carry out their duties – with or without you. An outstanding achievement as a leader is having faith in your team to get the job done in your presence and your absence. This means you must first trust yourself as a leader.
  • Cultivate a "do as I say and as I do" culture. Your team will respect and support your time to achieve balance and recharge if you offer them the same. Acknowledge their life priorities and commitments and provide your support so they can make it to their child's sports events, flex their schedule to keep necessary appointments, and take time to rest and recover if needed.

You Are Only as Good as the People You Lead

Running a successful 24/7 operation with a 9-5 life is possible. Advocate for yourself. Be firm, fair, and consistent with boundaries and expectations of yourself. Give yourself grace; no battery has infinite life. Feed the machine – body, mind, spirit, and soul. The best nurse leader is the healthy nurse leader. You are always a nurse, but this is not what defines you. You are so much more; you must safeguard yourself to sustain a lifetime of serving and healing others. 


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