Nurse fatigue and disengagement can pose serious problems for healthcare organizations, and a recent survey from Kronos found 63% of nurses say their job has caused burnout. The survey also found that more than 4 out of 5 nurses think hospitals today are losing good staff because other employers offer a better work/life balance.
When nurses experience burnout—often defined as a state of emotional and physical exhaustion due to ongoing stress—it not only contributes to staff turnover, but it can impact the facility’s quality of care, patient satisfaction, and even medical outcomes. In fact, the 2019 PRC National Nursing Engagement Report found a correlation between levels of nurse engagement and HCAHPS scores, a measure of patient satisfaction in hospitals.
Strategies for Addressing Nurse Burnout
For these reasons, healthcare leadership may need to take steps to decrease nurse burnout, including the following six strategies.
- Train Leaders to Recognize and Address Burnout
Nurse leaders play an important role in recognizing, addressing, and preventing the burnout of nurses. During their training, these leaders should be familiarized with the signs of an employee who may be disengaged or experiencing burnout, such as an increasing number of callouts, withdrawing from relationships, and becoming frustrated with small inconveniences.When leadership is able to recognize the signs of burnout early on, they can take steps to support their staff, finding ways to address stress levels before burnout becomes a more serious issue.
- Improve Nurse-to-Patient Ratios
Studies have shown high nurse-to-patient ratios are directly related to burnout rates. For instance, research in the Journal of the American Medical Association found nurses in hospitals with 8:1 patient-to-nurse ratios are more than twice as likely to show high levels of emotional exhaustion as nurses in facilities with 4:1 ratios. The article explains that each additional patient over four per nurse carries a 23% risk of increased burnout.Reducing nurse-to-patient ratios may require bringing on additional staff, but the expense can offset other challenges, such as high nurse turnover, poor patient satisfaction, and even poor outcomes and readmission rates.
- Include Nurses in Policy Discussions
Another proven way to combat emotional exhaustion among nurses is to give them the opportunity to participate in decision making, especially when it relates to their work. A study published in the journal Inquiry explains when nurses feel a lack of autonomy and control over their practice, they are more likely to experience burnout. Other research has shown hospitals that involve staff nurses in decision-making are better able to attract and retain nursing staff.
- Implement Support Programs
Nursing is an inherently stressful profession, and organizations can help their nursing staff cope with the pressure of the job by implementing support and wellness programs. This could be a variety of things, whether it’s teaching better break scheduling, holding departmental meetings to talk about health, or creating comfortable respite areas for nurses.”Each nurse needs to find the self-care technique that works best for them,” Elizabeth Scala, author of Stop Nurse Burnout, told Healthcare Dive. “The best thing an organization can do is to assess what the nurses want/need to cope and prevent burnout. And then to listen to the feedback, implementing a variety of strategies to support their nursing staff.”
- Involve Nurses in Scheduling
Many nurses work 12-hour shifts, and being on several days in a row inevitably leads to high levels of fatigue. In the Kronos survey, 55% of nurses said having more control of their schedule would reduce fatigue, and 60% said they would have a better work/life balance if they were more involved in their shift scheduling.While self-scheduling alone may not be an option, organizations may want to look into ways to have nurses collaborate with nurse managers and staffing offices to create schedules that work for everyone.
- Reduce Non-Clinical Tasks
Nurses are highly trained clinical professionals, but most surveys of nurses find that a large percentage of their time is spent on non-clinical tasks. Utilizing non-clinical staff as part of a care team in order to tackle frontline non-clinical needs such as post-discharge follow-up and monitoring, preventive visit scheduling, and connecting patients with community resources will depressurize a nurses workload and allow them to focus on valuable clinical tasks.
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