Even though most nurses work in a high-stress environment, best practices can help avoid premature burnout.
If you have become cynical or bitter about your job, if you no longer find enjoyment in areas of the job you once really liked, or if you have developed problems in relationships with co-workers, friends and/or family, you may be experiencing job burnout.
Signs of burnout
If you're a nurse manager, look out for signs of burnout in yourself and your employees. Be aware if nurses are becoming easily annoyed with co-workers, are envious of those who do enjoy their work, and do not seem to care if they do a good job or not. Physical and emotional exhaustion are not uncommon in burnout. Burnout can wreak incredible havoc on a nurse’s personal life as well.
Some burnout signs include:
- Calling out sick to work frequently
- Chronically late getting to work
- Not meeting deadlines
- Problems with relationships
- Regularly asking to go home early
- Sudden fluctuation in weight
- Frequent illnesses.
Causes of burnout
Burnout on the job can be a direct result of inadequate staffing. If hospitals don’t work with employees to ensure adequate staffing ratios, nurses may get fed up.
Besides poor staffing, the lack of autonomy in making decisions on care can also contribute to burnout. When a nurse manager has to call in a resident or intern to the bedside to make a decision that the nurse is capable of making herself, the nurse’s knowledge and skills are ignored and diminished.
Hospital nurse work environments that devolve greater autonomy and control to nurses at the bedside, provide administrative support for nursing care, have adequate staff, and facilitate good relationships between nurses and physicians are associated with lower risk-adjusted Medicare mortality; higher patient satisfaction; lower nurse burnout; and lower rates of needlestick injuries to nurses.
Lack of recognition also contributes to nurse burnout. This can be avoided by rewarding the current staff with bonuses and incentives for the great work they do instead using that money to attract new staff. Before you start losing your permanent staff to burnout, try supplementing your current team with temporary healthcare staff (traveling nurse, contract, or per diem).
Nurse burnout can be costly to hospitals. The average total cost of recruiting and replacing 1 nurse is typically between $42k - $64k. Instead of spending more money on overtime hours, it would be better spent on reducing nurse-patient ratios. This would have the desired effects of improving patient outcomes and reducing nurse work pressure.
Help your staff
If you ask nurses what keeps them in nursing, most will say it is making a difference in their patients’ lives. Money is normally secondary to working autonomously to help patients. Lack of control is really what drives nursing satisfaction down and burnout up.
Here is a list from Medical Solutions of 12 ways nurse managers can help nurses reduce stress:
- Stop denying. Allow nurses to admit to the stresses and pressures that have manifested physically, mentally, or emotionally.
- Avoid isolation. Don’t do everything alone. Encourage team members to develop or renew relationships with friends and loved ones.
- Change circumstances. If a job, relationship, situation, or person is dragging them under, encourage your staff to try to alter the circumstance, or if necessary, leave it entirely.
- Diminish intensity. Have the nurse pinpoint those areas or aspects that summon up the most concentrated intensity and work toward alleviating that pressure.
- Stop over-nurturing. If a nurse routinely takes on other people’s problems and responsibilities, teach her to gracefully disengage, and get some nurturing for herself.
- Learn to say “no.” Everyone should be able to speak up for themselves. This means refusing additional requests or demands on their time or emotions.
- Begin to back off and detach. Instruct the nurse to delegate, not only at work, but also at home and with friends.
- Reassess values. Help sort out the meaningful values from the temporary and fleeting, the essential from the nonessential. This will conserve energy and time.
- Learn to pace. Try to take life in moderation. You only have so much energy available. Balance work with love, pleasure, and relaxation.
- Take care of the body. Nurses should not skip meals, abuse themselves with rigid diets, disregard the need for sleep, or break doctor appointments.
- Diminish worry and anxiety. Try to keep superstitious worrying to a minimum - it changes nothing. You'll have a better grip on the situation if you spend less time worrying and more time taking care of real needs.
- Keep your sense of humor. Suggest to your nurses to begin bringing job and happy moments into their lives. Very few people suffer burnout when they’re having fun.