Workplace Culture

6 proven ways to prevent nurse burnout

By Akshay Sachdeva

Apr. 15, 2022


  • Nurse burnout is a serious issue in the healthcare business and has several negative consequences for all parties involved.

  • Long work shifts, stressful work, high patient-to-nurse ratios, a shortage of nurses, and a lack of sleep are some of the causes of nurse burnout.

  • To prevent nurse burnout, leaders should address nurse concerns, support nurse wellbeing, encourage breaks, offer flexible hours, optimize nurse workflows, improve nurse-to-patient ratios, and work collaboratively with nurses.

As of February 2021, 47% of nurses wanted to leave their jobs in the US since their work was negatively affecting their health and wellbeing. The numbers are worse during the coronavirus pandemic, with 6 out of 10 health workers reporting that the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. Clearly, burnout is becoming a sad reality among nurses.

Nurse burnout has several negative consequences. It not only impacts their health, but it can also reduce the quality of treatment provided to patients, increasing the risk of medical errors. The emotional fatigue burnout creates also leads to high turnover rates for healthcare institutions, as was found in a study by the journal of applied nursing research.

What causes nurse burnout?

Nurse burnout happens due to several reasons, a few of which include:

  • Long work hours: Nurses are being given long work shifts with no time to rest. This takes a toll on nurses, as longer shifts are correlated with higher levels of burnout.
  • Stressful work: Nurses constantly have to deal with stressful medical situations, especially ICU and critical care nurses.
  • Staffing problems: In a recent survey, 83 percent of responding hospital and health system executives predicted nursing staff shortages. This shortage places higher demands on currently-employed nurses.
  • High patient-to-nurse ratio: The higher the number of patients being treated per nurse, the higher the chances of nurse burnout. A study noted a direct relationship between a high patient-to-nurse ratio (i.e., over 8:1) and medical errors.
  • Poor sleep quality: Research shows that 67% of nurses reported having experienced sleep problems, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of sleep can negatively affect nurse health, leading to burnout.

Clearly, leadership must step up to prevent nurse burnout. Here are a few things they can do:

Address nurse concerns

Leadership can acknowledge, empathize, and address nurse concerns to make nurses feel valued. Nurses must be encouraged to openly share their concerns regarding burnout, so leaders can have a go at resolving them.

This can be done by allowing nurses to voice their concerns via an internal online forum or during one-on-one or team meetings. Shift feedback tools are also great for enabling nurses to leave feedback after each shift, so leaders can monitor nurse concerns and identify any early signs of burnout.

For instance, leaders can empower nurses to voice their concerns by giving them the opportunity to participate in decision-making, especially when it relates to their work. Nurses can be involved in discussions related to how patients should be treated, cleanliness and hygiene, break policies, standard of care, and more. Research has found that nurses are more likely to be fully engaged if they’re given autonomy and control over their work and if their opinions are valued by leadership, helping prevent burnout.

Support nurse physical and mental well-being

Leaders must ensure they’re paying heed to their nurses’ physical and mental well-being.

Employee well-being can be supported through sponsoring workout classes, partnering with gyms to encourage regular workouts, hosting meditation classes, starting a wellness program, or creating social events like potlucks or workplace birthday celebrations.

The Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association developed the Caring for the Caregiver initiative, which includes a focus on gratitude for nurses’ work, workplace safety, and wellbeing. As part of this initiative, they created a podcast called the Medical Professionals Empowerment Program, or MedPEP. Each episode contains tips to improve the health, wellbeing, and effectiveness of medical professionals.

Another great option to support nurses’ mental well-being is to provide on-demand psychological counseling services to help nurses cope with stress and emotional fatigue. Rush Health took a proactive stance by anticipating the risks of burnout and providing 24/7 psychological support to their employees for free. They’ve since reported a dramatic increase in the utilization of these services, especially participation in psychotherapy, coaching, and stress management training, which went from a few hundred employees in August 2020 to more than 1,500 in December 2021.

Encourage nurses to take breaks

While the law may not make it mandatory for employers to provide breaks, leaders should ensure nurses aren’t overworking themselves. Breaks ensure nurses are well rested to perform their duties with care.

Encourage nurses to take short breaks every 2 hours. These can be breaks between 5 minutes to 20 minutes long, so they’re counted as paid breaks. Breaks longer than 30 minutes could be unpaid.

Katrina Emery, a MICU nurse working on her doctor of nursing practice (DNP), started a “restorative break initiative” to ensure nurses get the breaks they deserve and also to shift the culture to one where breaks are mandatory. She started the initiative as data shows that 35 percent of nurses rarely or never take a break, and almost half of the nurses didn’t know the number of breaks allotted in their shift. The nurse scheduling software used by leadership should automate and administer breaks so nurses are aware of the breaks they get and also commit to them.

Offer flexible hours

Offer flexible scheduling so nurses can pick the shifts they’d like to work. Working on shifts of their choice where they work with coworkers they get along with, or at times that suit them, can help prevent burnout.

Flexible scheduling becomes easy with an employee scheduling software that empowers nurses to pick and swap shifts at the click of a button with managerial approval. Try to limit scheduling staff for long shifts greater than 12 hours since long shifts increase the risk for fatigue-related incidents and increase the time workers are exposed to infectious diseases.

In a recent study, 55% of nurses reported that more control of their schedule would decrease exhaustion, and 60% mentioned that they would have a better work/life balance if they were involved in their shift scheduling. Clearly, if leaders want to prevent nurse burnout, they must allow flexible scheduling by giving nurses control over their schedules.

Optimize nurse workflows

Nurses don’t always focus on their core priorities. Burnout can happen when nurses do too much work outside of their core domain. Workflows need to be optimized in a way that allows nurses to focus on what they’re best at.

For example, a nurse may be doing too much administrative work, which might be unnecessary and counterproductive. Working to optimize workflows so nurses can focus on their core duties and delegate the rest of the work to the right people can help prevent burnout. Using an electronic health record system for administrative tasks might help in automating repetitive workflows, freeing up time for nurses to take care of patients.

Improve nurse-to-patient ratios

Not only are proper staffing levels important for CMS compliance regarding things like PBJ reports, but they are also important for nurse well-being. The more patients each nurse looks after, the higher the risk of burnout. Improving nurse-to-patient ratios could help prevent burnout and also benefit both patients and hospitals.

By improving nurse-to-patient ratios, it’s possible to improve mortality rates in hospitals. A study found that with every nurse hired, there was a 7% reduction in mortality rates. Clearly, there’s a strong case for improving nurse-to-patient ratios, and while improving nurse-to-patient ratios may require bringing on additional staff, the investment can offset other expenses, such as high nurse turnover, poor patient satisfaction, and even poor patient outcomes.

One way to go about improving nurse-to-patient ratios is to utilize demand-based scheduling. Automation like this uses historical foot traffic and demand data to optimally build schedules around appropriate nurse-to-patient ratios. Managers can easily match the right amount of nurses to projected demand every day and make edits in real-time when conflicts arise, ensuring hospitals are never over or understaffed.

Leaders should collaborate with nurses

Leaders should work collaboratively with nurses to support nurse well-being. They should constantly monitor burnout rates through regular check-ins with nurses and step up to control burnout rates. Controlling nurse burnout becomes possible through the use of technology, having open dialogue with nurses, making them a part of well-being initiatives, and recognizing and appreciating their contributions.

To find out more about how workforce management prevents nurse burnout, contact us today or sign up for a free trial to see how nurse scheduling software can help.

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