May is both National Nurses Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, which makes it an ideal time to shine a spotlight on some of the hardest working professionals on the hospital staff: nurses. It’s important to recognize the toll that the pandemic took on healthcare workers, and look at ways to help staff recover from a difficult year in order to face 2021 with renewed energy and a fresh outlook.
Healthcare Worker Burnout
We don’t need to tell you that 2020 was one for the books, and healthcare professionals faced the brunt of the challenges. From nurse shortages and lack of adequate PPE to stress, anxiety and mental and physical fatigue, it’s no surprise that nurse burnout has been on the rise.
According to a 2020 survey conducted by Mental Health America (MHA), 93% of healthcare workers experienced stress, 86% reported anxiety, 77% felt frustration, 76% experienced exhaustion and burnout, and 75% said they were overwhelmed.
While 2020 may have been an extreme year due to the pandemic, healthcare worker burnout is a pervasive problem that can lead to nurse turnover, low morale and an increase in preventable adverse safety incidents. Preventing nurse burnout starts with hospital leadership.
Preventing Nurse Burnout: Leadership
According to The Joint Commission (TJC), resilience is an effective antidote to burnout, and it is hospital leadership’s role to support strategies to help nurses develop resilience. According to TJC, “burnout negatively affects the physical and emotional health of staff and contributes to rising costs. It also has been shown to have a negative impact on patient satisfaction, worsen patient outcomes or increase rates of safety events.”
To help build resilience, leadership can support staff with mindfulness and resilience training. The Commission acknowledges that these steps alone can’t prevent burnout without taking additional steps such as “eliminating barriers and impediments to nursing workflow, such as staffing and workplace environment concerns.”
Leadership can also empower and motivate nurses by enhancing the meaningfulness of work, giving staff the opportunity to participate in decision making (and possibly scheduling), recognizing high performance, and providing autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic restrictions.
It’s also imperative that healthcare leadership is trained to recognize burnout. Additionally, leadership can offer counselling and implement wellness programs that encourage self-care. Finally, facilities can take some of the burden off of healthcare workers by streamlining electronic health record flow to ease the documentation process.
How Healthcare Workers Can Avoid Burnout
There are several steps that healthcare providers can take to prevent burnout on an individual level:
- Get adequate sleep (at least eight hours).
- Set boundaries between work and home, and leave work at the hospital when you end your shift.
- Unplug from your smartphone for at least 30 minutes every day.
- Foster relationships with family and friends; this is your support group.
- Limit your commitments outside of work, and don’t overextend yourself.
- Take care of yourself physically by eating a balanced diet and getting 30 minutes of exercise daily.
- Mind your mental health, and get counselling support when you need it.
When combined with work and family responsibilities, these steps may seem like a tall order, but small adjustments can make big changes when it comes to improving mental health and avoiding overwhelm. The Cleveland Clinic offers more strategies for combating nurse burnout and reminds nurses that taking care of yourself helps you take better care of your patients.
Burnout is a Patient Safety Issue
The implications of nurse burnout are far reaching, from reduced patient satisfaction to an increase in adverse safety incidents. Many in the industry, including The Joint Commission, view nurse burnout as a patient safety issue.
According to a report on the influence of burnout on patient safety, “Professional well-being, depression, anxiety, and burnout syndrome are determining factors that influence the care provided to patients … there is a proven relationship between poor well-being and moderate to high levels of burnout and poor patient safety resulting in assistance errors.”
We’ve seen how the pandemic led to a decline in hospital safety culture, and nurse burnout undoubtedly factored into this decline. Now, as hospitals start to embrace a new normal, it’s time for healthcare facilities to recommit to hospital safety, and ensure that healthcare workers receive the support they need.
Small workflow steps like covering fiber-optic light cables with a GloShield to prevent burns and fires in the OR can go a long way to improve safety and take some of the stress off of staff with a safer, streamlined, reliable workflow and standard of care.