It's hard to pin down exact statistics on nurse burnout: According to one massive study that included responses from more than 95,000 nurses, more than a third reported feeling burned out in their jobs. According to a smaller survey from Kronos Incorporated, the actual percentage of burned out nurses may be higher than 60 percent.
No matter how you slice it, those are grave numbers. And a combination of the symptoms that go into burnout — including overwork, fatigue and lack of job satisfaction — has as many as 50 percent of nurses considering leaving their jobs.
But losing members of an already understaffed workforce is just one of the consequences of nurse burnout. High patient loads and a fatigued nursing staff have been associated with everything from increased readmission rates to higher rates of patient mortality and infections.
But wait, there's even more: One of the most nefarious characteristics of burnout is that it doesn't get better with normal amounts of rest. So by its very definition, burnout is easier prevented than cured. Use the following four proactive tactics to safeguard your nursing staff — and patients — by keeping burnout from happening in the first place.
Monitor Your Staff's Well-being
As you work to change your workplace culture — and even after — using tools like the Well-Being Index to proactively monitor the well-being of your nursing staff is the best way to catch burnout before it becomes a serious issue. Don't forget to train nursing and management to recognize the signs of burnout, too: They include constant fatigue, lack of enthusiasm, feeling overworked or underappreciated, and feeling detached or cynical, otherwise known as compassion fatigue.
Let Your Staff Say No
Unrealistic workloads are one of the biggest risk factors for nurse burnout — but you can nip the problem in the bud by instituting an across-the-board policy of appropriate patient loads and adequate breaks, and making sure your nurses have enough rest time between shifts. Just as importantly, empower nurses to say no if they feel they can't safely take on more shifts. After all, they're the first to know when they've had enough.
Workplace wellness initiatives are a powerful tool for combating burnout. These might include opportunities, or incentives, for activities like meditation, exercise and eating right. It's also important that your staff have the opportunity to process their emotions after a tough day.
That can mean creating safe, confidential access to mental health professionals in the workplace, but it can also be as simple as making sure your nurses have enough free time to visit with loved ones and decompress before reporting for the next shift.
Nursing is, by definition, a high-pressure profession. You can't eliminate that aspect of the job, but you can ease some of the stress by instituting a flexible workplace policy. That might mean supporting your nurses with continuing education opportunities, offering them a chance to switch specialties, or allowing lateral movement between departments.
Ultimately, the most important thing you can do to protect your nursing staff from burnout is being aware of the risk, being attentive to its signs, and listening. If you give them the opportunity, your staff with tell you exactly what they need to stay at the top of their game. And when your nurses are alert, well-rested and emotionally secure, that translates to a real win for everybody, from patients to the other medical and administrative staff.