Distress in health care providers has been on the rise lately, especially amongst nurses. Research suggests that 85 percent of working nurses feel fatigued by their job, while 63 percent experience burnout. This is more than just stress in the workplace, however; nurse burnout can lead to serious mistakes. Failure to communicate medical information, medication errors, and charting errors can have devastating results for everyone involved.
A leading cause of this distress is the organizational culture of nursing in the United States. Long hours, overnight shifts, few breaks, limited vacations — all of these can take a toll on nurses' well-being.
In order for medical organizations to address distress and improve well-being, they must stop placing blame on the providers and make systemic, cultural changes to ensure the best possible situation for both their employees and patients. Here are just a few ways institutions can adjust their culture to reduce the risk of distress.
Nurses feel overworked and underpaid, but a culture of appreciation could foster more engagement and reduce the risk of distress. Managers who provide nurses with positive feedback could increase well-being on several dimensions and improve job satisfaction rates in the industry.
Managers can also ask nurses to provide feedback about their well-being and, then, provide more communication and resources to nurses who feel fatigued or stressed. Tools such as the Well-Being Index can facilitate this process.
Nurses should get frequent breaks throughout their shifts and enough time to eat healthy meals. As patient numbers increase and nurse numbers decrease, however, this isn't always the case.
"The reality of patient demands and short-staffed units means we are lucky to get five minutes to ourselves," says one nurse, writing for STAT News. "We tend to put our patients’ needs first before we sit down, go to the bathroom, or grab a bite to eat. At the end of the day, we’re exhausted with the added weight of knowing we face the same challenges tomorrow."
Research shows that stress can lead to unhealthy eating habits, which, in turn, results in other health issues like heart disease and high blood pressure. Nurses who don't have adequate breaks might resort to unhealthy fast food and forego healthier options.
Organizations should provide nurses with healthy eating options in hospitals and medical centers to curb this issue. Encouraging nurses to go to the gym (perhaps with a discounted rate or free gym access) could also improve health outcomes and reduce distress.
Research shows that better leadership improves the confidence of health care employers, which can improve nurse and physician well-being. Managers should become better leaders that enhance the meaningfulness of work. This increases nurses' sense of worth and motivation.
Managers can also encourage nurses to participate in decision-making and other leadership behaviors. This allows nurses to give their opinions and learn new skills.
"The term workplace empowerment refers to employees’ ability to access the resources, information, and support needed to perform their work and to gain the opportunity to learn and develop," say researchers in a study about nurse burnout.
Better Work/Life Integration
No federal law restricts the number of hours a nurse can work, and many nurses choose to work overtime in order to support their families or compensate for low wages. This, in some circumstances, leads to nurse burnout and a poor work/life integration.
Nurses need a good work/life integration so they can perform their best when in a hospital setting. Not being able to see their families or friends could take a toll on a nurse's well-being. Organizational changes should ensure that nurses are able to have a personal life, as well as a professional one. Managers can expedite this change with more convenient working patterns that fit into a nurse's lifestyle.
Reduce Risk of Distress
Distress is a serious issue in health care, and many organizations place the responsibility on the nurse to address the issue. The focus needs to change from practitioner resiliency to organizational and systemic reform. There needs to be a cultural shift, where managers help employees feel appreciated, choose healthier eating options, become more confident, and experience a better work/life integration. When organizations take better care of their providers, the providers are able to take better care of their patients.