Although the field of nursing can bring rewards and fulfillment, there are many aspects of the career that are demanding and stressful. The job can be draining and take an emotional and physical toll on many individuals in this profession. Burnout is described as a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that stems from work. Burnout can lead to depression, unhealthy lifestyles, and safety hazards to both nurse and patient.
According to the RN Work Project, 18% of nurses leave the profession within one year, 60% leave within 8 years, 25% said they felt overworked, and 46% said their workloads had risen since they started. These high numbers are alarming, and measures must be taken to reduce nursing burnout (Charlotte, 2017).
One of the many causes of nursing burnout are long, exhausting shifts; often 12 hours. Many nurses also put in over-time hours due to being called in for short staffing, or staying late to finish charting. Working long hours increases fatigue, which in turn can result in errors. Overtime long and tiring shifts can wear on an individual and cause burnout.
Nurses are known for being caring and selfless, constantly helping others. This can actually lead to self-neglect, because they are constantly putting others needs before their own. Outside of work, nurses also have other responsibilities and others to care for such as family and children which can add to the stress. Over time, these caring individuals are more prone to burn out due to their nature of always putting others first (Tyler, 2017).
Nurses have many responsibilities and duties. Due to advancements in technology, nursing responsibilities have greatly increased, especially in the past 15 years. This had increased workload, especially with documentation, and has caused nurses to feel overwhelmed with duties. There have also been many issues with nursing shortages, which in turn cause short-staffing, and nurses to have an increase in job assignments. The heavy work load and busy environment can cause nurses to feel overwhelmed and stressed, which can overtime lead to burnout.
Although nurses are often told to “keep work at work,” it is easier said than done. It can be difficult to keep thoughts about the workday out of mind at home. When regularly exposed to sick or dying patients, grief and sadness can build up over time. This causes problems in many aspects of one’s life, not just at work. Nurses dealing with loss of a patient often have little time to grieve, and can feel forced to get back to work. This emotional baggage can wear and tear on nurses, and overtime cause burnout (Tyler, 2017).
There are many signs of nursing burnout, and not everyone suffering burnout goes through the same experiences. Signs to notice in coworkers include: calling in sick to work frequently, arriving late or leaving early, constant negativity or irritability, withdrawing from social interaction, and extreme intolerance to change.
There are also many signs to notice within yourself such as: extreme fatigue, anxiety, dreading work, constantly thinking of work, lack of emotion or compassion for patients, or trouble eating or sleeping. Nursing burnout can also often time manifest with physical symptoms. These can include diarrhea, constipation, heart palpitations, body aches, and a lowered immune system (Reiheld, 2016).
The first step a nurse needs to take in order to prevent burnout is notice stress when it first emerges. If not dealt with properly, stress can lead to multiple health problems and issues with personal and patient safety. Self-care is extremely important and vital to a life-long nursing career. Sufficient exercise, good nutrition, adequate and adequate time spent doing activities one finds enjoyable is necessary. It is also important to practice self-care while at work, such as eating a proper lunch (many nurses fail to do so), taking small breaks, and asking for help when the workload is overly demanding.
Another way to prevent burnout is to make a career change within the nursing field. Sometimes a switch to a different department, hospital, or setting can change one’s perspective and lighten their outlook on work. Sometimes simply being in one place too long can make one feel stressed or even uninterested (Reiheld, 2016).
Additionally, achieving higher education or additional certifications can make nurses feel accomplished and fulfilled. Pursing interests and working on self-improvement can instill a sense of purpose which is often lost in nurses facing burnout.
Good leadership can provide the support that’s needed when feeling burnt-out. The key to good leadership is keeping an open-door policy, allowing people to check in when they have a problem. Leaders who can recognize the signs of burnout in their subordinates and coworkers, can help stop it in its tracks or prevent it from worsening. Make sure employee assistance programs are in place. The teams should come in 24-48 hours after a traumatic situation to help employees debrief and deal with the experience (Larson, 2014).
Nursing burnout seems almost inevitable at some point in a nursing career, but it should not be considered the norm. Nurses need to focus more on their selves and their needs, and realize that they need to care for themselves just as much as they care for their patients.