I frequently get comments from readers who have experienced burnout in at least one of the positions they have held. Nursing staff burnout is, according to a June 16 article in Becker’s Infection Control & Clinical Quality, by Jackie Larson, “a little like carbon monoxide. You can’t smell it. You can’t see it.” Even so, its existence can spell gloom and doom for the organization.
Larson states that nurse leaders are in a position to help eliminate staff burnout by not using excessive core floating or excessive overtime, as examples.
Those who work on a prn basis have identified that when they had more control over the hours they worked by scheduling those hours with regular full-time staff, less burnout occurred. When the scheduling format was changed to only allow prn nurses to fill in the staffing holes after those who worked full time scheduled their hours, burnout was more pronounced.
According to various studies, burnout can result in fatigue, a loss of interest, decreased productivity, irritability, risk-taking, low morale, occupational injuries and increased turnover and healthcare-associated infection rates.
The existence of these end results of burnout in the workplace clearly affect the potential for patient care errors. Indeed, research as far back as 2004 has studied nurses’ work environments in which nurse burnout, in addition to other stressors, existed. Results of these studies clearly support the relationship between burnout and patient safety outcomes. Working while experiencing burnout, then, is not something you should take lightly.
Here are things you can do to avoid practicing your profession while fatigued, when losing interest in your patients, and when you are emotionally and physically distressed.
• Do not report for work on days when you have these types of negative feelings.
• Speak to your nurse manager about your emotions and needed changes to eliminate them.
• Don’t agree to overtime or double-shift work.
• Raise the issue of short staffing (if applicable) with your nurse manager.
• Make an appointment with your risk manager and share your concerns about the potential for patient errors when experiencing burnout.
• Utilize vacation days and sick days as facility policy allows.
• Help change your facility’s corporate culture to one that supports and values nursing.
• If all else fails, consider leaving your position for one that does not foster burnout.
If you have experienced burnout, how did you handle it?
NOTE: Nancy Brent’s posts are designed for educational purposes and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.
For information on relieving stress, read the CE module “Strategies for Coping with Stress: Application for Clinical Practice.”