Nurses spend their careers providing lifesaving care to people in need. While that work is rewarding, it can also be emotionally and physically draining. Nurses often work long hours, especially amid a shortage of health care workers, and experience compassion fatigue while working with patients. As a result, nurse burnout is a growing concern for the profession.
According to a 2019 study of health care providers by the Joint Commission, survey respondents cited nurse burnout as one of the leading concerns regarding patient safety and care quality in health care organizations. Meanwhile, 56% of respondents said their organizations were ineffective at dealing with nurse burnout.
Understanding and practicing nurse burnout prevention strategies will help current and future nurses to build more fulfilling careers and live healthier lifestyles.
What Is Nurse Burnout?
The World Health Organization (WHO) officially designates burnout as an occupational phenomenon in its international classification of diseases. According to WHO, burnout is “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It includes three main characteristics:
- Mental, physical, and/or emotional exhaustion
- Negative feelings toward one’s job
- Reduced effectiveness in one’s profession
Symptoms of nurse burnout include:
- Frequent illness
- Changes in sleep habits and appetite
- Feelings of failure
- Withdrawal from personal obligations
Nurse burnout can have many negative ramifications for nurses, patients, and health care facilities.
Common Consequences of Nurse Burnout
• High Turnover Rates: If nurses can’t perform their jobs successfully or maintain a healthy work-life balance, they will leave their positions. The growing shortage of nurses is only exacerbating this turnover. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects more than 500,000 nurses to retire by 2022. The industry will need 1.1 million new nurses to avoid a shortage.
• Poor Quality of Care: Nurses experiencing burnout can feel detached from the workplace, experience lapses in judgment and decision-making, and become disconnected from their patients, ultimately decreasing their job performance.
• Increased Costs for Health Care Organizations: If exhausted nurses leave their positions or make mistakes on the job, health care organizations can incur the costs of those deficiencies, making it harder to deliver consistent and effective care.
What Are the Causes of Nurse Burnout?
A variety of factors can lead to nurse burnout, affecting the well-being of nurses on the job.
• Long Work Hours: Nurses often work 12-hour shifts, a practice that has been found to contribute to burnout, stress, fatigue, and poor performance.
• Insufficient Work Environments: If nurses work in poorly managed health facilities, they may feel like their voices aren’t heard, leading to negative and detached feelings toward their workplaces. Inefficient leadership may also cause nurses to take on too many responsibilities, contributing to burnout and exhaustion.
• Emotional Stress: Caring for sick patients each day can take its toll, especially after 12-hour shifts. If nurses lack the support and resources to process their emotions, they can quickly experience burnout and compassion fatigue.
Strategies to Prevent Nurse Burnout
Nurse burnout prevention strategies are vital for helping nurses mitigate the effects of burnout and improve their quality of life and patient care. Consider these four key nurse burnout prevention strategies.
• Document your stressors: Write down factors that are causing anxiety and exhaustion to understand exactly what is causing burnout, and tackle each stressor as needed.
• Practice self-care: Take time to exercise, cook healthier meals, and improve sleep, even if that means going to bed 30 minutes earlier or taking a walk during a lunch break.
• Set boundaries: Leave work behind at the end of the day and on days off. Allow time for family, hobbies, and recreation without the stressors of the workplace.
• Speak with co-workers: Other nurses may also be experiencing burnout. Don’t be afraid to express emotions and ask others for support and advice.
Strategies for Nurse Leaders
Nurse leaders in health care organizations are also responsible for mentoring other nurses and helping them maintain a healthy work-life balance to prevent nurse burnout and stress. Nurses in leadership positions can use the following nurse burnout prevention strategies to prepare nurses for their roles and prevent turnover in their facilities:
• Establish channels of communication: Nurse leaders should offer open communication and transparency, allowing nurses to raise concerns about workplace issues and adjust their schedules if they’re experiencing burnout. Nurse leaders must also help clearly define responsibilities for other nurses in their department, ensuring they don’t take on an unsustainable amount of work.
• Foster collaboration: Nurses should be able to share their ideas and contribute to building policies for improved workplace engagement and success. Nurse leaders can encourage collaboration by setting regular meetings with other nurses and asking for feedback on a consistent basis.
• Create wellness programs: Nurse leaders can encourage nurses to care for their own health by providing resources such as gym memberships, nutrition programs, and counseling groups.
How to Become a Nurse Leader
An advanced education in nursing can give health care professionals the skills they need to become leaders in their field and help other nurses manage stress and prevent burnout. Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing is designed to help practicing nurses cultivate these skills and take the next step in their careers. Through a comprehensive curriculum, students build their knowledge of nursing theory and evidence-based practice to prepare for success as leaders in their growing field.
Learn more about how Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing can help you pursue your professional goals.
American Nurses Association, Workforce
Cleveland Clinic, “Nine Strategies for Alleviating Nurse Burnout”
Health Leaders Media, “The Joint Commission Tackles Nurse Burnout”
National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Nursing Shortage”
National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Prevention Actions of Burnout Syndrome in Nurses: An Integrating Literature Review”
Nursing Times, “How to Avoid Nurse Burnout”
Oncology Nursing News, “Compassion Fatigue, Burnout Leads to High Nursing Turnover”
Well-Being Index, Nurse Burnout
World Health Organization, “Burn-out an ‘Occupational Phenomenon’: International Classification of Diseases”
World Health Organization, “Health Workforce Burn-out”
World Health Organization, QD85 Burn-out