© 2018 Revista Latino-Americana de Enfermagem. Objective: to analyze the relationship between the quantitative assessment of working conditions and the qualitative perception of one’s own work experience. Method: a sample of 1,760 nursing professionals from Barcelona answered a questionnaire assessing their working conditions and summarized their own current work experience in five key words. Results: the textual corpus of the meanings of nursing work included 8043 lexical forms, which were categorized and codified. Respondents who rated their work conditions the highest expressed a vision of their work in terms of autonomy, achievement and well-being, while those who rated their work conditions the lowest talked mostly of exhaustion, depersonalization and negative climate. A correspondence analysis showed a close relationship between the quantitative assessments of working conditions and the verbal codes of the meaning of work. Conclusions: the meanings given to work were not only consistent with the numerical evaluations of the working conditions but also made them more understandable. The information obtained poses challenges for reflection and indicates ways to promote the positive aspects and prevent the negative conditions of nursing work.