Decrease your risk of burnout

By | 2016-08-24T01:12:01-04:00 August 5th, 2016|4 Comments

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.”


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About the Author:

Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
Our legal information columnist Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues in nursing and healthcare delivery across the country and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 30 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist. Her posts are designed for educational purposes only 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.


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    Elizabeth Scala August 8, 2016 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Great article. One of the things I have noticed about burnout is that it is not a problem. It’s a dilemma that requires a multifaceted approach. I do agree that burnout can be hard to see… until it is too late. Therefore we as nurses must be educated on the ways to stop burnout and put healthy coping mechanisms into place. Thanks for bringing this discussion to us!

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    Debbie Stevens August 8, 2016 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    Are you saying that a unit’s staffing should revolve around a prn’s preferences of shifts they want to work? So yes, a prn staff person will have less burnout, but why would any organization focus on a few occassional workers’ needs? Am I understanding what you are saying correctly? A very few occassional workers will be satisfied, but the majority of the permanent workers work around the prns’ preferred schedule and become dissatisfied and burned out? Why would any organization want to do this to the majority of their staff? It should be the other way around! Let the permanent staff pick their preferred schedules and then the prns fill in where the holes are!

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      Wanda H. September 1, 2016 at 12:00 am - Reply

      I understand what your saying Debbie. That would be the logical thing to do so you do not lose your dedicated staff. But, I do not believe she meant it like the way it sounded. She was just using the prn nurses as her example of what happens in the work environment when nurses experience burnout. The intent of her article is focused on health organizations addressing nurse burnout in general; whether it’s company staff nurses or prn nurses. Nurse burnout is happening every where and it will continue to happen until it is dealt with. Unfortunately, it does effect the quality of paitient care so if for no other reason they should at least address this concern for they sake of the patients.

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    Latricia December 24, 2016 at 6:19 pm - Reply

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