The effect of burnout on nurses has been a troubling issue in the healthcare industry for a long time, but it’s definitely been amplified by COVID. A 2017 RNnetwork survey found that as many as 70% of nurses admitted to feeling burnt out and half of respondents also said they were considering leaving the profession. Clearly the problem is too serious to ignore. Other studies have shown how nurse burnout affects patient care and satisfaction.
What is burnout?
Nurse burnout is the physical, mental, and emotional state caused by chronic overwork, job dissatisfaction, short staffing, and lack of administrative support. Nurses suffering from burnout often experience the following symptoms:
Constantly feeling tired – A 2017 CareerBuilder survey revealed that 50% of nurses reported feeling “tired all the time” and regularly experienced sleepless nights.
Anxiety – In the same survey, 32% of nurses reported feelings of “high anxiety.” Another 19% indicated feelings of depression.
Insensitivity toward others or a lack of appropriate emotions – Higher levels of burnout create emotional fatigue and depersonalization, leading to exhaustion and even cynicism. Nurses can become distant and cold in front of the patients, which also compromises the quality of care.
Causes of Nurse Burnout
One of the primary causes of burnout is stress created in the workplace. Work stress in nursing has four main sources: patient care, decision making, taking responsibility, and change. Some of the identified stressors for nurses include:
Increased workload – The long hours and physical nature of duties are one of the primary causes of burnout among nurses. The RNnetwork survey also revealed that 46% of nurses felt their workloads had increased significantly over the previous two years and 43% said their workplaces did not support a healthy work/life balance.
Short staffing – The national nursing shortage has been a problem for a long time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 1.2 million vacancies among registered nurses by 2022. More than 60% of nurses believed this to be a significant cause of their workload increase.
Lack of respect and harassment – Another major cause of burnout is due to nurses feeling they are not respected at work. According to the survey, 32% of nurses said they did not feel respected by hospital administrators. A significant number of nurses also reported incidents of harassment or bullying by other staff:
- 45% have been verbally harassed or bullied by other nurses
- 41% have been verbally harassed or bullied by managers or administrators
- 38% have been verbally harassed or bullied by physicians
Of the nurses who experience some type of harassment, 52% said they were considering leaving the profession.
Paycor Pulse is designed so you can gather employee sentiment quickly and at any time. It helps you literally keep a pulse on what your workforce is thinking and feeling. Paycor Analytics is a practical tool to give leadership a detailed view of their healthcare organization to identify trouble in areas before it boils over.
Solutions for Burnout
The consequences of burnout in nursing are serious, not only because of the impact on the quality of patient care, but also because it creates a self-feeding cycle. As the nursing shortage continues to grow, the workloads of current nurses rise, causing more stress, tension and conflicts among staff. This toxic combination drives yet more nurses out of the profession and ensures the staffing shortage continues to grow even worse.
Given all of this, what are some ways for healthcare administrators to reduce nurse burnout?
The first step is to actively look for signs of nurse burnout and address those issues before they become problems. Administrators must also work to de-stigmatize burnout and help nurses feel comfortable identifying stressors and giving feedback without fear of judgement or reprisals. Giving nurses a ‘voice’ in the organization will go a long way toward preventing burnout.
As previously mentioned, Paycor Pulse Surveys are a great way to keep nurses engaged through direct feedback. Hospital leadership can also gain insight into the stressors and issues that may be causing burnout in their nurses.
How to Reduce and Prevent Job Stress
Another step is to find practical outlets for nurses to help deal with stress. Some ways to relieve stress can include listening to music, taking yoga classes, going for a walk in the park, or some other calming, productive activity. Here are some examples of recommended stress relievers that nurses can do:
- Make time to get away, unplug and recharge
- Practice breathing exercises
- Engage in some moderate physical activity or exercise
- Delegate duties when possible
- Seek help from professionals
In addition, there are some practical, preventative tactics nurses can employ such as saying ‘no’ to working overtime, setting schedule boundaries and practicing regular self-care routines.
Hospital administrators and HR leaders can also implement policies to help prevent and alleviate stress among staff such as planning activities that foster better coworker relationships, creating an employee support network, and structuring shift duties to make sure nurses are able to take regular breaks.
In addition to preventing and alleviating stress, it is vital for hospital leadership to build up professional resilience in their nursing staff to mitigate the effects of stress and burnout. The following suggestions may help:
- Develop a system to help nurses feel they are valued and truly making a difference.
- Create a mentor program to enhance colleague/team support.
- Establish a debriefing policy to ensure nurses can provide feedback.
- Empower nurses to have a role in scheduling and treatment decisions.
It’s imperative to address nurse burnout in your healthcare organization because it directly affects patient care and your staff, and therefore, your bottom line. To successfully do this, hospital administrators must be prepared to actively engage and support their nurses through open communication and empowerment.