What is Nurse Burnout and How to Avoid It

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe, many of us have gained a newfound appreciation for those working in our healthcare system, especially nurses.

These brave men and women put themselves in harm’s way in order to care for total strangers. Not only risking their own health, but the health of their families when they return home after a long shift.

Nursing burnout is a harsh reality of the job, and difficult times like these only exacerbate it. When it comes to frontline healthcare workers, it’s important to understand the warning signs, and how to avoid it.

Nurse Burnout Rates and How to Counteract It

What is nurse burnout? It’s a state of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. It usually stems from a few different factors, including:

  • Chronic overwork. Burnout occurs not only from being physically tired, but from emotional exhaustion as well. Nurses work long shifts in high-stress environments over extended periods, which is often a recipe for disaster.
  • Job-related dissociation. This happens when nurses start experiencing feelings of detachment towards their job duties, which can lead to staff being less effective in their jobs.
  • Low sense of accomplishment. An overwhelmed nurse may begin to lack feelings of personal achievement in their work. It can lead to general unhappiness and even depression, which are factors included in the very definition of nurse burnout.

So what is the burnout rate for nurses anyway?

According to the 2019 PRC National Nursing Engagement Report, overall 15.6% of nurses experience burnout.

To make matters worse, it’s not just nurses who suffer. The stress and unhappiness caused by burnout leads to poor patient care, worker absences and increased job turnover.

In order to counteract burnout, hospitals and care facilities must first be able to recognize the warning signs.

Signs of Nurse Burnout

So what is burnout in nursing? It’s important to recognize the signs. If nurses are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may be time to make some changes to reduce stress levels and avoid burnout:

  1. Fatigue. Nurses are often tired. It’s understandable considering the long, rotating shifts. But there’s a difference between just being tired and chronic fatigue. If they struggle to wake up in the morning, fall asleep throughout the day or never feel like they’re caught up on sleep — it could be feelings of burnout.
  2. Dreading work. It’s easy to feel underappreciated as a nurse; dealing with angry or emotional patients can be a thankless job. It’s normal for any professional to have days where they just don’t want to be at work, but if they dread it all the time, it’s likely they’re burning out                                                                                               
  3. Indifference. Nurses feel compassionate by nature, it’s often the main reason they get into nursing. But if they start noticing an emotional disconnect towards their patients, there’s a good chance they’re burning out. Insensitivity and detachment are two clear signs of nursing burn out.
  4. Severe anxiety. Feeling anxious at work is normal, and it’s especially true for nurses. There’s never a shortage of things to worry about; the health of their patients, dwelling on a mistake or losing someone they bonded with are all normal things to be stressed about. If these feelings become overwhelming and start consuming their life outside of work, it’s time that they reach out to their employer or colleagues for help.
  5. Illness. Sustained levels of high stress can actually make them sick. It can lower their immune system, cause gastrointestinal issues, chronic pain, and heart problems. If they’re constantly catching viruses, have sustained aches and pains, or are developing new health disorders — it’s highly probable they’re burning out.

Nursing Burnout

How COVID-19 has affected nurses

COVID-19 has placed unprecedented demand on nurses. For one, they have to treat patients who have an elusive illness that they haven’t dealt with before. Not to mention, they need to tend to an increased number of critically ill patients during long shifts and soothe dying patients who are isolated from their loved ones. On top of this, nurses fear that they will contract the illness and infect their own families.

The increased stress takes a toll and puts an overwhelmed nurse at a higher risk for burnout. This is especially true for a new nurse, who is less familiar with the demands of the job.

It’s critical for hospitals and healthcare facilities to understand the nursing burnout definition, including early warning signs and telltale symptoms.

Failure to do so results in a high stress environment for healthcare workers; causing lower patient satisfaction and more turnover in the short term, which may lead to a national nurse shortage long term.

What can hospitals and care facilities do to help nurses avoid burnout?

Nursing burnout can be reduced if hospitals and care facilities are aware of it. Work with nurses to minimize their stress levels and overall burnout, including:

  • Watch for stress signals. Although spotting job stress isn’t always easy, a nurse with less enthusiasm is an obvious sign of burnout. Changes in behavior, like a normally social nurse who starts avoiding colleagues, is also a good indicator. Monitor their engagement and attendance — nurses who miss shifts, leave early or argue with coworkers may need help.
  • Teach self-care. It’s important to train nurses on how to keep their personal and professional life separate from each other. Engaging with employees on a daily basis about their energy levels will create a better sense of self-awareness and a healthier work environment.
  • Prioritize wellness. It’s important for team leaders to make sure their nurses are taking scheduled breaks, eating properly and getting adequate time off. All these factors have a direct impact on a worker’s happiness and stress levels. Some hospitals even have a wellness space for their employees, with comfortable seating and soothing lighting. These areas help promote mental and emotional wellness where they need it most.
  • Lower nurse to patient ratios. Arguably the most important of all, implementing lower nurse to patient ratios can help reduce employee stress and improve patient care at the same time. Lower ratios allow nurses to give their patients more attention, while being able to take their breaks on-time without worry. National Nurses United, the largest union and professional association of nurses in the US, proposed nurse-to-patient staffing ratios for a variety of healthcare environments. The nurses reported ideal ratios for critical care (1:2 ratio), the operating room (1:1 ratio), rehabilitation (1:5 ratio), and more.

These techniques are critical in reducing stress and creating healthy environments for nurses and healthcare workers. When it comes to taking care of nurses, we can do better.  Let’s start looking after the physical and mental health of the ones who care for us all.

Medical Devices That Help to Reduce Fatigue and Strain

Part of counteracting fatigue is offering nurses, and other healthcare professionals, the tools and equipment they need to effectively do their job, while minimizing strain.

Improper lighting may cause eye strain in nurses and surgeons who take part in lengthy procedures. Improved lighting provided by products like BFW headlights can be a solution.

Contact the specialists at BFW today and help create a safer, happier environment for medical staff.