Career Resources / Burnout
Nurse burnout is becoming more commonplace than ever before. 41 percent of nursing professionals admit that 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.
In this article, we will explore:
- Factors contributing to nurse burnout
- Managing nurse burnout at work
- Combating nurse burnout outside of work
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.
With hospitals experiencing higher loads than ever before, long shifts and double shifts are becoming more frequent in nursing. Nurses often work up to 12 hours at a time with infrequent breaks.
Working longer hours causes stress and fatigue, which in turn decreases a nurse’s ability to provide top-notch care to patients. Moreover, nurses who are constantly tired and overworked are more prone to making critical errors.
Poor working environments
Nursing professionals cite poor working environments 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.
Not only are nursing working excessively long shifts, but they are also experiencing increased workloads. Nursing shortages are a main factor for increased workloads.
Poor management of a healthcare environment can additionally 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 becoming 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.
Managing nurse burnout at work
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 combating 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.
Setting healthy boundaries
Setting 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.
Engaging in healthy practices
Nurses work long, varying 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.
Although it can be challenging, making sure you take breaks during your shift 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.
Combating nurse burnout outside of work
Although there are ways to manage stress at work, the most important work for combating nurse burnout is done outside of work. Taking charge of a few key life areas will have you feeling empowered and less stressed. Let’s look at the following ways you can choose to live healthier and bring your best self to work.
As nurses, we tend to put others first. Often to the detriment of our own health. Don’t skip self-care! Research connects shift work and long work hours with negative health habits. Nurses’ work hours can lead to bad habits such as sleep loss, smoking, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and alcohol abuse. Nurses are caregivers, but it’s hard to care for others if we haven’t taken care of ourselves. Prioritize your sleep, nutrition, exercise and relaxation. Self-care is one of the best ways to combat nurse burnout.
Having a routine
Without a routine, you may suffer from stress, poor sleep, bad eating habits, bad physical health, and poor use of time. Adopting a routine is a great way to combat nurse burnout and means you could see the following health benefits:
- Reducing stress levels is the goal for most people when it comes to burnout. Maintaining a routine can benefit your mental health because you will have more time to relax and less anxiety.
- Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule helps your mind relax and reduces worry over getting everything done. A sleeping schedule can provide you with mental focus and time efficiency at work and at home.
- Having a routine leads to better health which combats nurse burnout by giving you stamina and energy to perform. With a little planning, you can eat energizing breakfast options, pack a healthy work lunch or prepare dinner ingredients to avoid junk food when you’re tired. Add your favorite exercise to your calendar because if it’s scheduled it’s more likely to happen.
- And of course, even having time to do the things you enjoy combats nurse burnout. Schedule time for hobbies, travel, and relaxing activities which will leave you feeling renewed and ready to face the challenges of your next shift.
Keep firm boundaries
As mentioned in the previous section, it’s important to keep setting boundaries once you clock out, too. It’s not uncommon for coworkers to text or call after your shift to ask questions.
Teach people how to treat you. Don’t allow coworkers to interrupt your time off. Safeguard your rest and mental health with a simple, polite “no” to a request to pick up an extra shift. Do not feel the need to over-explain.
A simple “No, I’m not available.” is all you need for a response. Remember, you are the one person who values your well-being the most!
Be in control of your budget
A personal budget is a great way to avoid nurse burnout. A budget is a tool that helps you manage your income, expenses, and savings. With a budget, you tell your money what to do and this can help you feel in control.
Being unsure about where you stand financially can lead to anxiety. When you choose how to spend and save your money it can lead to a greater feeling of well-being.
Using a budget helps you:
- See all your expenses clearly
- Track your income
- Set goals for saving
- Decrease debt
- Achieve better work/life balance
Having control over your finances may mean you may be able to work fewer hours, and have more time for family and fun.
Exploring other employment opportunities
If you’re feeling burnout, maybe it’s time for a change. Some nurses combat burnout by either changing specialties or switching places of employment. Start by digging deep into why you want a change and what it will take for you to be fulfilled at work.
Changing your specialty
If you want to work in a different specialty, you should start by networking with other nurses from that specialty. They can tell you what type of work they do, and the pros and cons of that specialty.
If you don’t feel challenged at work seeking additional training or education may help you take on more responsibilities. Check out other specialties and what you’d need to transition. Make sure you look for a specialty that truly matches your work goals.
Savannah, GA | $40,000 to $80,000 /year
Lacombe, LA | $56,000 to $88,000 /year
Zachary, LA | $56,000 to $88,000 /year
Abita Springs, LA | $56,000 to $88,000 /year
Scottsdale, AZ | $75,000 to $100,000 /year
Switching places of employment
If you dread going to work but you love your specialty, the problem could be your current work environment, coworkers, or management. This could mean it’s time for you to switch places of employment.
Get job matches in your area + answers to all your nursing career questions
If you’ve lost your passion or excitement at work, research other employers who may offer an environment that excites you.
To combat nurse burnout, focus on what you can control.
At work, you can deep breathe, maintain healthy boundaries and take breaks. Outside of work you can use a daily routine, practice self-care, and use a budget for financial peace of mind.
If you’ve done all that but are still feeling burnout, it might be time to explore other employment opportunities.
Get job matches in your area + answers to all your nursing career questions
“Health Benefits of Having a Routine.” nm.org. Accessed Sept. 2, 2022.
“How to Create and Manage a Budget.” debt.org. Accessed Sept. 5, 2022.
“Money Buys Happiness When Spending Fits our Personality.” sagepub.com. Accessed Sept. 5, 2022.“Negative Impacts of Shiftwork and Long Hours.” NIH.gov. Accessed Sept. 1, 2022.
With contributions from Tasha Holland-Kornegay, founder of WIRL.