Burnout is common with nursing professionals. Nearly half of all registered nurses in hospital settings have experienced symptoms of burnout. Depending on where you’ve worked and how long you’ve worked there, it’s likely you either know of another nurse who’s experienced burnout or you’ve experienced the symptoms yourself. And with so much on-the-job stress, it’s not hard to see why.
When left unchecked, burnout can be detrimental not only to nursing professionals but the patients we care for. Here’s a look at the impact of nurse burnout and how employers and health care professionals can work to avoid it.
What Is Burnout?
There are many causes behind job-related burnout. They could be constant feelings of lack of control, unclear job expectations, a toxic workplace culture, or a lack of balance between your life at work and your life outside of work.
Preventing burnout starts by eliminating or reducing these factors. But often, the damage has already been done. In that case, it’s important to identify the symptoms of possible burnout, so you can start treating them before they turn into something worse.
Some common signs of impending or current burnout include the following:
- Low energy and lack of motivation
- Cynicism at work
- Lack of concentration
- Unhealthy coping mechanisms
- Feeling disillusioned about your job
- A disrupted sleep schedule
- Physical health problems, like headaches and stomach issues
These symptoms are often gateways to more serious effects, like excessive stress and fatigue, substance abuse, and vulnerability to illnesses or chronic conditions like heart disease or type 2 diabetes. As soon as you feel yourself developing any of these symptoms of possible burnout, it’s time to immediately take a step back and evaluate your work situation.
How Does Nurse Burnout Impact Health Care Facilities?
Not only does burnout affect nurses on an individual level, but it also impacts the health care facilities where we work in several ways:
- It can cause inadequate patient care. If you’re emotionally and physically exhausted from work, you’re not performing at your best. Stress and fatigue can directly influence decision-making and lead to errors, both minor and major. And when mistakes happen, the stress from trying to handle them can just add to the exhaustion.
Burnout can also cause conflict or disconnect between nurses and their patients. That’s not only bad for the facility, but it also discourages patients from seeking further help when needed. And when they do, they might be slow to trust another nurse.
- It contributes to staffing shortages. Many nurses experiencing burnout tend to leave their jobs. This trend contributes to the already pressing nursing shortage, leaving many facilities devoid of workers. On a personal level, this means you’re more likely to work on units with a smaller staff and higher patient-to-nurse ratios, contributing to the vicious cycle of burnout.
- It fosters a toxic work culture. Burnout can be contagious. When one nurse is constantly stressed, their words and behavior directly impact those around them — including other nurses. This negativity fosters a toxic work environment that feels hostile, anxiety-producing, and uncomfortable.
These issues are difficult to treat, as they often continue the cycle of burnout in the healthcare industry. To get to the root of the issue, it’s important to find ways to prevent — not just treat — burnout at its core.
Can Employers Prevent Nurse Burnout?
Preventing burnout isn’t just the responsibility of us nurses. The facilities that employ us have to work to address common burnout risk factors. If your facility isn’t already actively trying to address staff burnout, or you’re in a position of management and wondering how to prevent staff turnover from burnout, then advocate for yourself and your fellow coworkers and work to get policies in place.
Here are some ways that health care employers can help to prevent burnout among their staff:
- Lower the patient-to-nurse ratio. Fewer patients to care for means nurses can spend more time with each one instead of rushing from room to room. When nurses are given the opportunity to do their job as best as they can, they’ll feel more fulfilled and on-task.
- Identify stress early on. Employers should be on the lookout for signs of burnout, so they can address the issues and offer support before it starts impacting patient care.
- Encourage self-care. Caring for ill and often terminal patients takes a toll on your mental health. Because this is the everyday reality for many nurses, make sure that staff can take their legally-required breaks and that the administration listens to concerns and finds ways to meet needs.
- Prioritize wellness. Burned-out nurses are at a higher risk of making avoidable mistakes, usually because they feel overwhelmed. Consider creating wellness teams that support nurses during downtime, whether through group talk sessions or even massage therapy. Additionally, you can set up a designated “rest” space with comfortable seating and warm lighting, so nurses can truly unwind during their breaks.
- Understand your nurses personally. When administration gets to know each nurse on an individual level, they’re able to read them better. Maybe one of the nurses is typically energetic and on-the-ball but lately has been dragging their feet. If you know what “normal” looks like for that nurse, you can easily pick up on changes in their behavior and address them quickly and with compassion.
How Nurses Can Deal With Burnout
As a nurse, it’s important to prioritize your own well-being so you can be a better caregiver and advocate for your patients. If you’ve begun to recognize signs of burnout in yourself, here are some tips you can follow to combat it:
- Practice mindfulness. Being mindful can greatly reduce stress. While it takes time to master the art of mindfulness, making an effort to be present in any given moment, both inside and outside of work, can keep you grounded when work gets stressful.
- Practice self-care. Your physical, emotional, and mental health all influence your performance as a nurse. Drink enough water, get an adequate amount of sleep, seek emotional support when needed, exercise regularly, and listen to your body.
- Take deep breaths. While it sounds simple — and it is — taking a few deep breaths before entering a patient’s room can calm your heart rate and ease your nerves.
- Don’t skip breaks. Take advantage of your breaks by using the full allotted time and allowing yourself to be “off” until you return to work.
- Use your vacation time if you have it. If you have paid time off, use it. Plan a trip or even a simple “staycation” when you feel yourself growing exhausted or stressed, so you can unwind and come back energized and in a healthier state.
When you take care of yourself and advocate for a better work-life balance, it’s easier to combat job burnout.
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