Nursing burnout impacts thousands of nurses every year. Signs include disconnection from patients, emotional exhaustion, cynicism, flagging enthusiasm, taking frequent sick days and loss of confidence. Employers can help stop nursing burnout by taking steps such as involving nurses in decision-making, establishing support systems and offering trustworthy, accessible leadership.
Nurses can practice self-care by taking time away from work, getting regular exercise, maintaining a well-balanced diet and getting adequate rest. But nursing burnout is difficult to manage alone. Systematic change is needed.
In addition to the mental and physical toll on nurses, burnout is expensive, as well. A report from the Annals of Internal Medicine made a “conservative” estimate that annual healthcare industry losses caused by nursing burnout amount to $4.6 billion. This includes loss of clinical hours and increased employee turnover.
Anyone in a nursing degree program should understand that nursing burnout is a real issue and something all nurses must try to safeguard against. To understand how to stop nursing burnout, it’s important to understand the inherent aspects of the job that make burnout such a risk.
What Is Nursing Burnout?
Nursing burnout is considered one of the top challenges of nursing. The recent PRC National Nursing Engagement Report found 15.6 percent of all nurses surveyed reported feelings of burnout. A much larger number – 41 percent – of “unengaged” nurses experienced feelings of burnout.
PRC defined nurses as unengaged when they do the bare minimum on the job, feel “ambivalent” about whether their hospital succeeds, and find few rewards in their work. Overall, 14.4 percent of nurses felt unengaged. However, among Millennial generation nurses, that number rose to 17.1 percent.
Others have reported higher burnout numbers. A study by the National Academy of Medicine, as reported in the Washington Post, found that almost half of all doctors and nurses in the United States experienced symptoms of burnout.
Nurses are at greater risk of burnout than other professions because of a large workload, high levels of stress and the chaos they often work in, particularly in emergency departments. They also have frequent, often highly emotional, contact with patients and their families.
To assess the prevalence of burnout, PRC developed a “burnout assessment” that centered around three main questions. They asked nurses if they felt:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Disconnection from patients
- Lack of confidence in their ability to overcome the challenges of their work
The National Academy of Medicine also said feelings of cynicism are common, as well as a lack of all enthusiasm or joy for work. And these feelings can happen quickly. Writing for the American Journal of Nursing, nurse Maureen Shawn Kennedy described her experience of burnout in a hospital’s emergency department this way: “I loved it until I didn’t.”
What Are The Signs of Nurse Burnout?
Kennedy wrote that many issues led to her nursing burnout. They included budget cuts, hiring freezes, the departure of experienced colleagues who were not replaced, night shift rotations happening more frequently and working double shifts to cover for insufficient staff.
Those were causes for her burnout. The signs of her burnout included bickering with other nurses “over scheduling, restocking supplies, or who we were paired to work with.” Kennedy “stopped treating patients as real people and saw them as assignments to get through on a shift. It was time for me to leave.”
PRC’s report described similar burnout signs: looking for a shift to end, always focused on the next break, calling off during times of stress and feeling as if a patient is less a person and more a task.
Ways To Stop Nurse Burnout
As pointed out by clinicians and other experts interviewed in the Washington Post, there’s only so much an individual can do to stop nursing burnout on their own. Yoga, taking days off away from the hospital, consistent physical exercise, and healthy diet all can help.
But the real solution is systematic change. The PRC report found that nurses feel more engaged and experience less burnout when hospitals create an environment that emphasizes three key areas:
- Making nurses active participants in patient care and having leadership that values their opinion
- Creating supportive nursing teams in which all members are respected
- Offering trustworthy leadership, which lessens nurses’ stress and chances of burnout, especially if leaders are accessible and responsive to their needs
Kennedy voiced similar sentiments, writing that “we need to be fiscally responsible, but nurses’ main priority shouldn’t be patient throughput or implementing changes that save money while compromising care and patient outcomes. Nurses must be enabled to nurse.”