HealthNovember 07, 2022

Why hospitals should offer programs to reduce nurse burnout

Record high rates of burnout and nurse turnover are prevalent across the industry. A recent study from the University of Virginia School of Nursing finds that by proactively investing in burnout reduction programs, hospitals have the opportunity to strengthen and retain their nursing workforce while reducing associated costs.  

Preventing nurse burnout is a complicated endeavor: consider nurse workforce violence and its impact on burnout. Studies have shown an association between the frequency of nurses’ exposure to workplace aggression from patients and their levels of burnout. In the second quarter of 2022, more than 5,200 nursing personnel were assaulted - that translates to about 57 assaults per day. But workplace violence is just one factor for burnout. Other contributors include high-stress work environments, lack of support, long work hours, and the impact shortages are having on remaining staff. 

The impact of nurse burnout on hospitals and patients

Burnout not only impacts nurses themselves but negatively affects patient outcomes, hospital work environments, and registered nurse turnover rates, according to research. Targeted programs that support nurses, particularly new staff, are critically needed.  

A recent study from the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Nursing examined the cost of nurse burnout attributed turnover and found data to support this — hospitals with designated burnout reduction programs spend 36% less, and nurses remain employed in their current hospital 20% longer than hospitals without relevant programs.  

Given the urgent need for nurse retention, the study substantiates that it is more effective for hospitals to proactively invest in programs to support their current and future workforce.   

The value of targeted interventions to reduce burnout

UVA’s study, published in the Journal of Patient Safety in June 2022, determined that hospitals that implement burnout reduction strategies for nurses — through wage increases, professional mobility, stress reduction, and educational opportunities for learning and leadership — spend about one-third less per year on burnout-attributed nurse turnover costs than hospitals without such initiatives. The first-of-its-kind analysis to specifically estimate RN burnout-attributed costs for hospitals was modeled on a cohort of newly hired or newly graduated nurses.  

Key findings of the study include:  

  • Hospitals with targeted reduction programs spent $11,592 per nurse per year on burnout-attributed turnover, compared to the $16,736 spent at hospitals without a reduction program 
  • RNs in a hospital with burnout support programs spent more time employed (3.5 years) compared to nurses in a hospital without those programs (2.9 years)
  • RNs employed in a burnout reduction hospital spent 20% less time in a state of burnout during their years employed compared to RNs in a hospital without those programs 

The study also found that the worse the nurse burnout and turnover, the more impactful reduction programs actually were. When RN burnout prevalence was greater than 20% and RN turnover costs were greater than $70,000, implementing a burnout reduction program cost less, retained staff longer, and had fewer nurse staff reporting burnout.  

Of particular importance was providing targeted policies and interventions to nurses within the first three to five years of their practice, such as:

  • Financial incentives for RNs as they become mentors to newer staff; namely bonuses and/or vacation time 
  • Mandated staffing ratios for improved quality of patient care 
  • More equitable workloads across clinical groups 
  • Increased educational opportunities or tuition reimbursement as RNs gain more time on a unit to help build additional clinical competence  

Supporting nurses with integrated programs

It is clear that RNs need support in order to meet the sizable demands of their roles. The bottom line is that it is more cost-effective to address RN burnout head-on with integrated programs. Burnout reduction programs can lead to more sustainable professional lives for nurses, less turnover, and positive impacts on the quality of patient care.  

Learn how integrated, evidence-based solutions at the point of care can support nurse leaders and their clinical staff.

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