Healthcare providers are experiencing extreme levels of burnout. Nurses, in particular, were reporting high levels of anxiety and stress prior to the pandemic, but the strain of treating COVID-19 patients has only exacerbated the issue. Reports show 20 to 30 percent1 of the current nursing workforce is considering leaving the profession.
Hospitals are struggling to adequately staff units, which means busier and more stressful shifts for nurses. Some nurses are leaving the profession and many are taking positions as a travel nurse because the role comes with much higher pay. At the same time, the workforce continues to face an impending shortage as the baby boomer generation of experienced nurses retires.
There are also several unique factors contributing to the heightened levels of burnout. An example of contributing factors include the challenge associated with many hospitals, especially in the early months of the pandemic, removing or limiting family visitation. Family members help nurses by ensuring their loved ones don’t fall, assist with activities of daily living and provide emotional support. When visitors aren’t allowed, all of these tasks fall to the nurses.
It’s imperative healthcare leaders address feelings of burnout among their workforce. Burnout is associated with higher turnover rates, which eats away at the bottom line due to costs associated with onboarding new hires and paying travel nurses. Most importantly, nurses are crucial to providing high quality care and a positive patient experience. Time and time again, research shows nurses are trusted2 by patients and help prevent the occurrence of medical errors.3
So, what can your organization do to curb burnout among the nursing workforce? There are many solutions you can implement. Among them are adequately staffing units, offering flexible shifts and creative nursing pools, providing positive feedback and opportunities for continued education, giving bonuses and/or salary adjustments, offering free counseling services and other perks.
These solutions aren’t rocket science but where a healthcare leader can go wrong is failing to understand the unique pain points and needs for individual nurses. It’s easy to provide blanketed solutions for all staff members, but oftentimes, certain solutions work better for some people than others. For instance, one nurse who is focused on career advancement might appreciate exposure to diverse skill sets that can help with attaining a management role. Another nurse may be a caretaker in need of specific shifts or more flexible hours.
Whatever the circumstance, leaders must dedicate time to listening to their nurses, getting feedback on the major challenges contributing to stress in order to design improvements which result in sustainable change.
The solutions also shouldn’t feel like a band-aid. Organizations too often implement a program or benefit without gathering feedback on how it has been perceived and what can be improved or changed. Solutions to burnout should be an active partnership among nurses and leadership so the caregivers know they are valued and the solutions are meaningful.
If healthcare leaders dedicate the time and resources to improving the experience for their nurses, this crisis may be a potential catalyst for sustained change in the healthcare environment. By working towards measurable improvements the industry can emerge stronger for patients and staff overall.
While there is much progress to be made, one silver lining for the profession is the growth in applications to nursing programs. That’s a wonderful sign for the future and indicative of the beauty of this profession, which is essential to the well-being of our communities.
I also discussed this topic on a recent episode of Modern Healthcare Custom Media’s Healthcare Insider podcast. Click here to listen, or find it on your favorite podcatcher.