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Battling Burnout for Nurses

ESO Staff

Nurses make up the largest part of the healthcare workforce and are the primary providers of hospital patient care and long-term care. Unfortunately, a combination of long hours, high-stress environments, and increased demand has caused some nurses to experience compassion fatigue and burnout.

Recent studies show that 15.6% of nurses report feelings of burnout (increasing up to 20% for ED nurses). Around 41% of those surveyed feel “unengaged,” meaning they feel diminished morale, emotionally “checked out” from their work, and do not feel like part of a team.

Interestingly, 50% of nurses who reported feeling burned out also indicated that they do not currently plan to leave their organization. It is therefore vital for hospitals to support nursing staff because burnout can lead to medical errors, poor patient care and experience, and fewer favorable outcomes. These issues may not only affect a hospital’s reputation, but also its certifications and revenue.

Causes of Burnout for Nurses

Nursing plays a vital role in the healthcare industry; at the same time, nurses face specific issues that put them at an increased risk for experiencing burnout.

Long Hours and Shift Work

While nurses may have some control over their work schedule, trends like increased care needs from the aging population and the global pandemic have impacted the number of hours that nurses work. Studies show that burnout is 2.5 times more common in nurses who work shifts of 10-13 hours as opposed to 8-9 hours. Long shifts can disrupt sleep patterns, decrease time with friends and family, and hinder a good work-life balance.

Increased Number of Patients

High demand for hospital-based care can cause large patient-nurse ratios, creating more stress. Reports show that nurses who care for more than four patients at a time experience a greater amount of stress and burnout, with each additional patient raising the risk by 23%. Overworked staff can also lead to higher turnover, increasing the workload for those remaining.

High-Stress Specialties

Nurses in high-stress areas like the ED and ICU report higher rates of burnout due in part to higher patient mortality rates, a faster-paced environment, and the need to make quick and potentially life-altering decisions. Compassion fatigue also adds to the emotional strain of working in a setting where patient outcomes are not always favorable.

Tips for Battling Burnout

Nurses and hospitals alike can take steps to reduce burnout and create a healthier workplace. While improvements can be made on a system-wide level, individuals can also take the initiative to improve their own situation.

Focus on Fewer Hours

Nursing managers should do their best to balance shift schedules to stay under the 9-hour threshold, and nurses should advocate for their schedules whenever possible. Nurses should use their paid time off regularly to ensure a balance between work and life, spending that time with family and friends or doing things they enjoy. Hospitals may also consider implementing mandatory vacation days at regular intervals to support their staff.

Build Your Team

Nurses who feel connected to their co-workers and feel like part of a team find more job satisfaction. Hospitals should look for ways to nurture teams through collaborative events, training, and recognition. Workplace issues should be addressed promptly. Nurses may also seek out mentors or peers through the hospital or through their professional network. It can be helpful to have a colleague or mentor who understands the role of a nurse and can offer perspective.

Truly Disconnect When Off the Clock

Individuals should do their best to disconnect from work when they are off the clock. Activities like exercise, journaling, and a post-shift relaxation routine can help create distance from the stressful workplace setting. Using time off to connect with others, get outdoors, or pursue a hobby can also help a nurse make the most of his or her time off and return rejuvenated. Additionally, it is vital to get enough sleep to keep functioning at a high level.

Seek Help When Needed

Burnout left unchecked can lead to other mental health issues like depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. Hospitals should ensure that a support system is in place for its staff and that all are aware of how to access resources like counseling and therapy. Managers should do their best to remove any stigma from asking for help with mental health. After traumatic events, follow up with individuals in a private setting to ensure they are aware of available help.

Nurses should also take advantage of resources, whether provided by their organization or in the community, and know that counseling and other programs can support mental health needs. Getting help as soon as possible can help avoid more serious problems down the road.

Burnout in the nursing field poses a risk to the overall health of the U.S. By implementing proven strategies to address and reduce job stress, hospitals and nurses can create healthier and more effective workplaces for the nation’s caregivers.

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