Nurses often educate their patients about the importance of self-care, but they don’t always listen to their own advice. It is difficult for nurses, and nurse managers, to admit that their passion isn’t always enough to sustain them through the physical and mental demands of the job. Recognizing and encouraging the prevention of nursing burnout, just like other preventative health care measures, might encourage nurses to assess their risk for burnout before a crisis.
Being constantly busy and using terms like overwhelmed, exhausted, and burnout have almost become expected and accepted as normal in our society. Many may see signs of burnout in themselves or their coworkers, but often nobody says anything. It’s as if we measure our work by how busy we are, even if it comes with the sacrifice of personal time, or our physical and mental wellbeing. Nurse leaders can challenge these expectations by encouraging a healthier work environment.
Assess for Signs of Burnout
Nursing is a physically and mentally demanding job, and although stress can help provide motivation, too much can be counterproductive and may lead to burnout if symptoms aren’t addressed early. There’s no doubt that burnout is prevalent in nurses, although the cause of burnout, and the way the symptoms may manifest, can vary individually.
Often the root of burnout is linked to not spending our time in a way that aligns with our personal priorities and values. It can be difficult to assess our own burnout status, and to consider that nurse managers and leaders are just as susceptible. Leaders who promote caring for ourselves to provide better care for others may increase awareness of nurse burnout, while proactively addressing it.
- Malaise, irritability or ongoing frustration
- A lack of interest, decreased motivation, or not being mentally present
- Not practicing self-care, appetite changes, or insomnia
Put Out Fires Early
Nurses are accustomed to taking care of others and may be reluctant to admit that they can’t do everything. Many may try to hide their fatigue or frustrations from their managers. In addition to potentially leading to burnout, this can result in an increased risk for medical errors, may affect patient care, impact job satisfaction, produce low morale and may ultimately result in turnover.
Nurses who become disenchanted with the profession may leave, and are less likely to encourage others to enter the nursing field. To work toward improving nurse retention, assess your organization’s culture. Does it promote an environment that works toward the prevention of burnout? A few areas that can lead to frustration or burnout, and methods to counteract them include:
- Increased administrative burdens – Gather input to make sure that technology utilized is beneficial in reducing paperwork and not creating more work. Educate nurses on how to utilize available technology effectively, or invest in an appropriate system for increased efficiencies.
- Short staffing, overtime, and overwhelming workload- This can result in nurses feeling as if they are unable to care for patients like they would like to, and increase fatigue and the risk of errors. The use of scheduling software can assist in striving for a better work/life balance and a reduction of overtime.
- Lack of advancement – Incorporating cross training can provide nurses with the chance to learn new skills, a change of environment, new opportunities, and the potential for future advancement.
Wellness is about culture and providing your nurses and managers with the tools they need to succeed. Examine your workplace culture. Does it provide support that encourages meaningful conversation and building positive relationships? Does it feel as if nurses are part of a community? This can help to convey the value of each position, and how each nurse contributes to the organization’s goals.
Although leaders can provide education or tools regarding coping with stress, or health coaching, each nurse must invest in their individual health needs. If personal stressors are overwhelming, it’s difficult to focus on their patients and organization when there’s nothing left to give.
Start by encouraging leaders and management to develop positive coping methods. This can help to convey that the organization recognizes the importance of maintaining personal motivation and finding happiness and rewards within their position.
Reduce the risk of burning out leaders and managers by encouraging:
- Delegation through assigning objectives rather than specific tasks. This can allow for a feeling of ownership. It’s also a way to invest in succession planning while reducing feelings of overwhelm.
- Being selective with meetings and using technology to convey information when possible. Can that meeting be addressed in an email or a phone call?
- Reinforcing boundaries by not saying yes to everything and instead focus on prioritizing tasks.
Nurse burnout affects more than the individual. Make proactive efforts to recognize the signs of burnout. Addressing these issues before they become a crisis may help increase job satisfaction, reflect with quality patient care and potentially decrease turnover. Invest time today, and it may help reduce burnout that leads to better retention tomorrow.