Nurses devote their lives to taking care of others, but when it comes to taking care of their own needs, many put themselves on the back burner. Research shows that the best nurses—those driven by compassion, attention to detail and a desire to serve—are the ones most susceptible to burnout from the growing stresses and demands of today’s healthcare environment.
Nurse burnout is a “public health crisis,” says the American Journal of Nursing, and it is both a cause and effect of the shortage of registered nurses in the U.S. Many nursing teams are short-staffed and required to care for more high-risk patients, especially with the influx of older and previously uninsured patients streaming in from the Affordable Care Act and the aging baby boomer population.
Nurses face greater emotional and moral distress than ever from being forced to make more difficult, life-and-death care decisions, along with long hours, fewer resources, more interruptions, numerous discharges and admissions during shifts, and a slew of documentation tasks to complete each day.
All of this contributes to physical and mental exhaustion that makes nurses more prone to losing focus, making mistakes, feeling dissatisfied, and eventually leaving the profession or losing their passion for it. 82 percent of nurses who took a recent health risk assessment for the American Nurses Association reported having a significant level of risk for workplace stress, and 7 out of 10 nurses polled by Harris Interactive reported feeling burned out in their jobs.
In recognition of National Nurses Week this week and its theme of promoting health and wellness for nurses everywhere, we rounded up some of our favorite tips for helping hospitals, chief nursing officers and nurses beat burnout that can quickly become an epidemic among care teams.
Stay on top of staffing. Make addressing nursing shortages a priority, even that means hiring recent college graduates or nurses from temp agencies to boost staffing until you’re able to find the full-time nurses you need or the patient census drops. Allowing shortages to continue not only leaves nurses overworked, but it also keeps them enmeshed in their job after hours. “When nurses are worried about their patients and jobs when they go home, there is no decompression for them,” healthcare hiring professional Dan Beller said in this recent Becker’s Hospital Review article. “They never really 'leave' work.”
Help nurses rejuvenate. Designate places in the hospital where nurses can go to recharge or find ways to help them with this. The Cleveland Clinic, for example, offers yoga classes, reiki sessions, and stress and weight management seminars for nurses across its system. Midwest Regional Medical Center in Zion, Ill., provides nurses with “renewal rooms” where they can escape for a few minutes during shifts to find stress relief. The rooms include a massage chair, a yoga mat, relaxing CDs, inspirational books and a tabletop waterfall.
Encourage feedback. Give nurses a forum for expressing their concerns about their workload and work environment and making their voices heard. It’s not always easy for nurses to express themselves for fear of being viewed as complainers, and many don’t feel like they can just walk away when they have patients to care for. Keep an open-door policy for nurses and listen when they bring up valid concerns. Put policies in place to limit nurse-to-patient ratios or at least allow nurses to have a say in shift rotations that may lighten their load.
For nursing leaders:
Lead by example. Be visible physically throughout the department so you can observe, hear concerns and be part of conversations going on between nurses on your floor. “Actions always speak louder than words, and we must model healthy, professional and supportive behaviors for our nurses,” noted veteran nursing leader Carrie Silvers in this Fierce Healthcare article. Recognize the demands placed on your nursing teams, validate their concerns, and encourage discussion of issues and ideas for solutions.
Enforce accountability. Be willing to hold nurses accountable when they are not carrying their load. This will ease up the workload for everyone else on the nursing team and demonstrate that you care about them enough to try and alleviate their stress. If nurses have valid reasons why they can’t accomplish everything on their plate in a shift, listen and offer to help where you can.
Use staff meetings to rally nurses. Rather than just discussing new policies, processes and outcomes during meetings, encourage input from nurses by posting an agenda beforehand and asking for additional items they would like to discuss or present. Urge them to research practices they are interested in implementing, bring up new ideas or volunteer based on their interests or passion. If nurses see others on their team stepping up to make things better, they’ll be more likely to do their part to improve the unit, too.
Step away when you need to. Know which situations at work trigger stress, anxiety and frustration for you and minimize your exposure to these as much as possible. While you can’t eliminate certain job duties, you can limit interaction with people who leave you feeling drained or delegate tasks that don’t require your personal touch. Develop daily rituals to help you deal with stress, whether it’s deep breathing, some yoga moves or stepping outside for a few minutes to mediate. When your shift is over, leave your worries at work. What happens at the hospital should stay at the hospital.
Seek out support. Make sure you have a friend or colleague at work you can vent to and share your thoughts, feelings and emotions with. Often just getting things off your chest helps keep situations in perspective. Be honest with yourself and your manager when you feel overwhelmed. Running yourself ragged will just endanger your patients. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it and allow others on your team support you, just as you would for them.
Take care of yourself. It’s easy to get so caught up in taking care of others that you neglect your own needs. “Even the strongest nurse who puts too much devotion into her work faces the risk of ‘compassion fatigue,’ notes a Sanford-Brown College article referenced on the DailyNurse blog. Make sure you are taking time outside of work to eat healthy, exercise and get enough sleep. Balance the rigors of work with personal pursuits that help you relax and unwind. Find a creative outlet you enjoy—like taking a pottery class, joining a book club or planting a garden—to give you a positive distraction from the hospital stresses that weigh you down.
At Amplion, we understand the many challenges nurses face every day, and we’re dedicated to making their jobs easier with our next-generation nurse call technology that helps improve communication and collaboration among care teams. Our data-driven platform uses smart technology and workflow optimization to enhance nurse call as well as patient safety, care coordination and alarm management. Our system also provides nursing leaders with the visibility they need to boost accountability and morale.
Schedule a free consultation with us to learn how we can help your hospital build happier, more engaged nursing teams that deliver the highest level of patient satisfaction.