Eighty-five percent of nurses in the United States feel fatigued by their work, while 63 percent experience burnout, according to a recent study. Nurse burnout—the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes from the pressures of the job—is becoming increasingly common as working hours and responsibilities increase due to limited staff.
Now, hospital administrators are looking for solutions. Although lifestyle changes—a healthy diet or regular exercise, for example—can improve nurse stress levels, there's a bigger, systematic problem that administrators need to address. Workplace culture can have a detrimental impact on a nurse's state of mind, and only widespread organizational changes, implemented from the top down, can solve this issue.
What's the Cause of Nurse Burnout?
Most medical professionals agree that it's organizational structures in healthcare that lead to physical and emotional exhaustion among nurses. A recent report from healthcare research and consulting company PRC found that many nurses experience the following:
- They feel they are not part of a team with work colleagues.
- They feel unmotivated and have diminished morale.
- They feel "checked out" from work.
These feelings can result in stress and depression and even impact the quality of care nurses provide to patients.
There are other factors that lead to burnout and distress. Nurses often complain about the limited number of resources they can access, limited staff, extra responsibilities, unwanted overtime and long hours, a lack of collaboration between nurses, and a lack of communication between nurses and managers.
Interestingly, ER nurses are at the highest risk for burnout—20 percent of them say they feel unengaged at work.
"Nurses have a lot on their plates—and now more than ever," says Rasmussen College.
"Nursing responsibilities have actually increased over the past 15 years due to advancements in technology and documentation. The extensive workload can cause nurses to feel overwhelmed or experience a loss of control. Short-staffing in hospital settings makes for busier, more hectic days for nurses."
What are the Signs of Nurse Burnout?
Nurse burnout can manifest itself in different ways. One person might experience burnout differently from another person.
Here are some of the most common signs of nurse burnout:
- Not wanting to turn up to work/arriving late to work.
- Not performing work duties to the proper standard.
- Becoming withdrawn/anti-social.
- Feeling stressed about work.
- Resenting managers and administrators.
- Jeopardizing the quality of patient care.
Nurse Distress in Numbers
Here are some statistics that prove nurse distress is a problem that healthcare managers need to solve. Otherwise, it could seriously impact their quality of care.
- 42% of nurses feel fatigued because they can't take scheduled lunch and dinner breaks during shifts, according to one study. 41% say they are not able to take any breaks because of increased workloads.
- 98% of nurses say their work is mentally and physically demanding. Moreover, 60% say they have too many tasks and patients to manage at one time.
- 25% of nurses say they don't get enough sleep in-between shifts.
- 24% of nurses say that 12-hour shifts make them feel more fatigued and increase the risk of burnout compared to eight-hour shifts.
[RELATED: 6 Dimensions of Distress & Well-Being]
What's the Solution?
Medical professionals have proposed various solutions for nurse distress, but most healthcare experts agree that nurses need more support from managers and administrators in their organization. There needs to be a workplace cultural shift that places a greater emphasis on the well-being of nurses, who often feel disengaged at work.
Healthcare experts Cynthia King and Leigh Ann Bradley told Nurse.org that, in order to prevent nurse burnout, hospital administrators need to focus on three things:
- Involve nurses in their organizational decision-making processes and make it known that they value nurses' opinions about patient care.
- Create environments where nurses and healthcare professionals respect each other, collaborate on projects, and communicate effectively.
- Make leadership accessible to nurses and foster relationships between nurses and senior leaders.
Creating a Culture of Support
Nurses are hardworking and resilient. They can cope with the demands of the job and work under pressure. However, hospital managers and administrators need to make organizational changes that improve the working lives of nurses.
These changes include creating a supportive work environment for nurses, so they can better deal with the stresses of the job. Research shows that supportive work environments enhance patient outcomes and decreases nurse turnover.
This can have an effect on the overall organization. Nurse turnover can be expensive—it costs thousands of dollars to train new nurses—and inferior patient care can result in fines and even hospital shutdown. Investing in supportive workplace culture, therefore, will result in positive changes.
Nurses often cite poor communication as a reason for burnout. In many hospitals and medical centers, nurses can't communicate effectively with administrators and managers. This can result in them feeling undervalued and even lead to mistakes on the job.
But how can managers communicate better with nurses? Weekly feedback meetings might be a good idea. However, with ever-growing patient waiting times and other demands, this isn't always possible. Communicating with nurses via email, however, will enable managers to monitor their employees' well-being and provide them with further support.
"Increasingly, hospitals offer employee assistance programs for nurses that include free phone counseling sessions, or other forms of stress management and self-care support," says Nursing.org. "For those who need more advanced coping resources, professional and pastoral counseling, support groups, and therapy are also available."
Hospital managers should also consider giving nurses more responsibility for their healthcare inventions. According to research, nurses who have more responsibility tend to be more satisfied with their job roles.
Go Beyond Burnout
Nurse distress is a bigger problem than ever, with the vast majority of nurses feeling fatigued or burned out in their jobs. In some cases, burnout can have a detrimental impact on the quality of patient care they provide. Going forward, hospital managers and administrators need to provide nurses with better support and communication tools and create positive working environments that make nurses feel valued.