10 Keys to Protecting Nurses From Burnout

Nurses are the backbone of our hospitals, often working long, hard, unforgiving hours no matter what is going on in their lives or the world. According to the American Psychology Association, burnout takes a physical and mental toll on our medical professionals who care for patients nationwide. As such, it is vital that we learn about nurse burnout prevention.

10 Keys to Protecting Nurses From Burnout

1. Understand What Burnout Is

Before we can work on nurse burnout prevention we need to understand precisely what burnout is and what can cause it. Burnout has been defined in various ways since Herbert Freudenberger first termed it in 1974. However, researchers tend to favor a definition developed by Maslach and colleagues that covers three areas: emotional exhaustion, reduced personal accomplishment, and depersonalization.

We tend to feel depleted, exhausted, or spread too thin when dealing with emotional exhaustion. When we struggle with a reduced sense of personal accomplishment, we tend to have a negative self-evaluation, like never being or doing enough. Finally, when we struggle with depersonalization, we tend to become cynical, living with a constant negative view toward’s patients or our work in general.

2. Identify the Symptoms of Burnout

Identifying the symptoms of burnout is vital to preventing it. Burnout can occur when we give too much of our time, too much of our energy, and too much effort into our job without stopping to allow ourselves to recover. As nurses, we are tasked with caring for our patients, from infants in the NICU to geriatric patients on life support and everyone in between. Stopping to allow yourself to recover physically and emotionally can be difficult.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of burnout can help you stay alert so that you know when you need to make a change. These symptoms can include constant exhaustion, dreading going to work, and emotional exhaustion. Additionally, you may feel apathetic towards patients or feel dread and panic when thinking about going to work. Others may experience a loss of appetite or sleep. Knowing the signs of burnout can keep yourself and your patients safe.

3. Understand How Burnout Affects Nurses and Patients

We also need to understand why prevention is essential. According to the National Academy of Medicine, up to 54% percent of nurses in the United States exhibit symptoms of burnout. That means more than half of the nurses at work in the US are feeling emotionally exhausted, cynical, and experiencing a low sense of professional accomplishment. Burnout heavily affects the lives of the nurses experiencing it and impacts the lives of patients they care for.

Nurses suffering from burnout can experience side effects such as poor job performance, high turnover rates, and medical mistakes. These side effects can even include suicide. Burnout is a serious problem and every nurse working in the field today needs the knowledge to try and curb burnout before it happens and the aid they need to recover from burnout when it occurs.

4. Understand the Causes of Burnout

Burnout can be caused by many of the situations that nurses experience daily. For example, long hours and overnight shifts can take us away from our families or interrupt sleep schedules. In addition, constantly working in a high-stress environment with too many patients and responsibilities with anxiety over our patients contribute to the stress that continues to pile on.

Additionally, nursing shortages can lead to too much work, too many hours, and a lack of balance between your work and home life. Bullying and harassment from patients or doctors, lack of benefits or appropriate compensation, and a lack of breaks will often lead to dissatisfaction with your job overall. No matter how you cut it, nurses hold patients’ lives in their hands daily, and that stress can add up quickly.

5. Understand Why Nurse Burnout Prevention Is Best

We have all heard the proverb that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure. While it is easier to measure outcomes after the fact, it is always better to prevent an injury than to patch up everything after you’ve been hurt. Working in the hospital during the pandemic was a brutal and harrowing experience, and we know now more than ever how important it is to prevent feelings of isolation and burnout.

Losing patients, fearing infection, and struggling to get the PPE needed to keep hospital staff safe was a huge struggle. These high-stress situations can make nurses feel alone, and HIPAA laws make it challenging to share our daily struggles. The truth is, unless you’re speaking to another nurse, many people won’t understand the issues we face. Burnout recovery isn’t simple. It’s individual and can last years. Preventing burnout can save you hours of heartache.

6. Leadership Can Affect Burnout

Excellent leadership is requisite for nurse burnout prevention. Leaders who acknowledge and address your concerns and empathize with you make all the difference in the world and make nurses feel valued. This means that if you are a member of your hospital’s leadership team, encourage the nurses to share concerns, especially regarding burnout, openly. Next, make a plan to address those concerns and then follow through and try to resolve them.

This can be done utilizing online forums, team meetings, or open-door policies for your office. Empower your nurses and give them opportunities to participate in decisions when it relates to their work. Include shift feedback to monitor concerns and identify the early symptoms of burnout. Value their opinions, knowledge, and experience regarding patients, scheduling, hygiene, break policies, the standard of care, and more.

7. Help Your Nurses Take Breaks

Nurses work every day to care for the patients in their charge. However, while amazing at caring for others, nurses are notoriously terrible at practicing self-care. Help each other. Many nurses will skip their breaks. The pressure of the job and the tasks that you have to complete during the shift take over, and the responsibility of your patient’s care is at the forefront of your mind. Stop, take a breather, and help your fellow nurses take breaks.

This means slowly shifting nursing culture. Find out how many breaks are allotted for your shift, then let others know. Make sure you and your coworkers know it’s okay to take breaks and that it can even improve your work performance. Spread the word, then help each other be consistent. Speak to management so they can lend support and ensure everyone stops for lunch and gets breaks while leaving enough people on the floor to care for patients.

8. Offer Flexible Scheduling

Nurse burnout prevention should include flexible scheduling. Balancing work and home life can be difficult, especially when working the hours that nurses often do. Flexible scheduling helps nurses to pick the shifts that they want to work. In addition, this allows nurses to work with coworkers they like and during shift times they enjoy, thus helping to prevent burnout.

There are multiple employee scheduling software programs that make flexible scheduling easy. These software programs can empower your nurses, allowing them to pick and swap shifts with others when needed. Avoid scheduling nurses for shifts longer than 12 hours whenever possible to reduce the risk of fatigue-induced accidents. Flexible schedules ensure that nurses have a greater work/life balance preventing burnout and creating happier employees.

9. Improve Your Nurse-to-Patient Ratios

Nurse-to-patient ratios are essential when we look at preventing nurse burnout. The more patients each nurse has to look after, the higher the risk of burnout for those nurses. Improving these ratios decreases the rates of nursing burnout and improves mortality rates in the hospital. Improving the nurse-to-patient ratios requires additional staff. However, the investment offsets itself with a lower turnover rate, higher patient satisfaction, and better patient outcomes.

Demand-based scheduling can go a long way to improving your nurse-to-patient ratio. The automated system uses historical foot traffic and demand data to optimize schedules with appropriate proportions. Managers can match the number of nurses needed to the projected demand daily, then edit that in real-time when situations arise. The demand-based scheduling ensures that the hospital is always staffed correctly.

10. Give the Support Needed

Another key factor of nurse burnout prevention is ensuring that your nurses have the knowledge they need to cope in high-stress situations and the support they need to recover. For example, encourage support groups and buddy systems that allow nurses to vent frustrations and discuss the challenges they face daily, so they aren’t burdened with that stress when they go home. In addition, ensure all staff members know who they can contact to get professional help.

Hold team meetings to teach breathing techniques and therapeutic exercises to help prevent burnout before it occurs. Post flyers listing suitable coping methods, so nurses have easy access to the information needed to keep themselves physically and mentally well. If you’re worried about preventing nursing burnout, hire mentor and professional nurse Dr. Feyifunmi Sangoleye to inspire with her motivational keynote speaking and remind you why you became a nurse in the first place.