Nurse burnout is becoming more commonplace than ever before, with 41 percent of nursing professionals admitting they feel overworked and stretched too thin. Staff shortages, increased job responsibilities, and government regulations are among the top reasons that nurses feel stressed to the max.
Becoming disengaged with your job is not the only sign of nurse burnout. Weary nurses become less productive, are easily frustrated, and may call in sick more than their peers to avoid the stress associated with their jobs. When nurses reach this level of job fatigue, it can affect their relationship with their coworkers and the level of care they administer to patients.
Factors contributing to nurse burnout
Nursing is a rewarding job, but it also can be demanding. Nurses who are so focused on providing the best possible care for their patients can sometimes forget to recharge their own batteries.
Several factors contribute to nurse burnout:
Long shifts and double shifts are becoming more frequent in nursing. On average, nurses work up to 12 hours at a time, with infrequent breaks. The research is clear on the harmful effects this kind of shift work has on nursing professionals. Longer working hours also contribute to patient dissatisfaction with the level of care received. Working longer hours causes stress and fatigue, which in turn decrease a nurse’s ability to provide top-notch care to patients. Moreover, nurses who are consistently tired and overworked are more prone to making critical errors.
Poor working environments are cited by nursing professionals as a top reason for burnout. Poor management and leadership and a lack of teamwork are the kinds of issues that create a deficient work experience for nurses.
Increased workloads are another issue that causes nurses’ stress and anxiety on the job. Nursing shortages account for increased workloads. Poor management of a healthcare environment can lead to shortages of qualified staff. Nurses are expected to work harder to make up for incompetent managers, but become burned out and end up quitting themselves, worsening the shortage situation. It is a vicious cycle.
Difficult patients are par for the course when you are a nurse. However, that does not mean that conflict with patients cannot discourage nurses and make them feel inadequate. When nurses begin to doubt their skills and abilities, they can quickly become disengaged from their jobs.
Situations like these can also cause nurses to begin experiencing compassion fatigue.
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Steps to combat nurse burnout
Combatting nurse burnout requires awareness of the things that are contributing to your stress on the job. Some of these things – like poor management and high staff turnover – are not in your control.
Things like volunteering to work double shifts and an inability to say no to new commitments are factors you can adjust. So, the first crucial step in combatting nurse burnout is making an inventory of your stressors. Once you have this list, you can begin brainstorming the best solutions.
In the meantime, here are some other steps you can take to help you stay healthy and focused on being an awesome nurse.
- Breathe in, breathe out – When situations feel like they are spiraling out of control, stop what you are doing, and focus on your breathing. Taking a few deep breaths in and out promotes a feeling of calm and can help you refocus on the best way to handle a situation. This breathing exercise is a common form of mindfulness, a workplace-friendly coping strategy that has been found to promote self-compassion, positive reactions to stress, and increased empathy among nurses.
- Set healthy boundaries – Setting healthy boundaries goes a long way in helping you avoid taking on more than you can reasonably handle. Do not let bosses or coworkers guilt you into biting off more than you can chew. Being firm about your limits does not make you a bad nurse. It makes you a smart one less likely to burn out.
- Engage in healthy practices – Nurses work long, weird hours. It can be difficult to find time for a bathroom break, let alone an hour of exercise or 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Prioritizing healthy practices such as eating healthy meals and snacks and staying hydrated are important pieces in the burn-out puzzle. Failing to take care of your health and well-being is a surefire recipe for disaster.
- Take Breaks –Making sure you take breaks during your shift along with vacations is crucial. When you don’t have a proper work-life balance, everything can go sideways. Some healthcare facilities require a mandatory vacation day policy.
Finally, nurses should remember that it’s ok to ask for help.
With contributions from Tasha Holland-Kornegay, founder of WIRL.