How staff burnout in healthcare affects the patient experience—and 5 ways to prevent it
Staff burnout in healthcare didn’t suddenly arrive with the pandemic. The industry has been grappling with the effects of healthcare burnout for years. Challenging, emotionally charged work, long shifts, rising nurse-to-patient ratios, little work/life balance, and poor treatment from patients and patients’ families were already causing burnout among nurses and other healthcare providers.
The pandemic exacerbated those issues, driving nurses—even the highly experienced ones who love their jobs—to the brink. In fact, one recent study found that 95% of nurses reported feeling burned out within the past three years, and 44% said burnout is their main reason for looking for new employment.1
Demanding workloads and poor staffing ratios are leading causes of burnout, 2 and those issues aren’t going to disappear overnight. One thing is certain, though, healthcare and nursing leaders can’t ignore it. Staff burnout in healthcare has a far-reaching impact that goes well beyond individual team members. A single burned out nurse can affect the entire team, hurting productivity and leading to even more burnout as some nurses are expected to cover for their colleague.
As negativity and feelings of overwhelm spread for nurses, it’s patients who pay the price.
How staff burnout in healthcare impacts the patient experience
Nurses who are dealing with their own mental health issues, like long-term stress and burnout, can struggle to feel empathy toward others. When overwhelmed nurses are rushing from patient to patient, they may not ask the right questions or take the time to understand how the patient is feeling. That lack of empathy and engagement can have a negative impact on the quality of care.
That all leads to a poor patient experience, and the whole thing becomes a vicious cycle. Unhappy patients and their families complain. Mistakes occur. Conflicts among colleagues rise. Nurse leaders may need to get involved and even discipline nurses who are dealing with burnout. All that compounds the stress and the burnout the nurse is feeling.
Recognizing the signs of staff burnout in healthcare
The first step in addressing staff burnout in healthcare is to recognize the signs of it. It goes beyond the typical stress associated with the job. Burned out nurses could become:
- Mentally and emotionally disconnected from the work. They may be cynical or have low job satisfaction. The passion they once had for caring for others may start to wane. Some will call out sick, even when they aren’t truly sick.
- Less effective on the job. They may make more mistakes or their productivity and efficiency suffer. They may be tardy, fail to follow protocols, or fall behind in their duties.
- Chronically exhausted. They may have problems sleeping and always seem tired.
- Sick more often. They regularly experience fatigue, headaches, and other pain. And because their immune systems are weakened from the stress, they get illnesses more often.
5 strategies to prevent staff burnout
One of the leading causes of burnout in healthcare workers comes from staffing issues. In a 2022 National Nurses United survey3, 69% of respondents said staffing is slightly worse or much worse recently, up 20.2% from a September 2021 survey. As a result:
- 5% said they were reassigned to a clinical care area that was not within their skill set – and 46% said they were reassigned without getting any education or preparation
- Nearly 65% said their hospitals are using excessive overtime to staff units
While you may not be able to cure your staffing challenges overnight, the following workforce management tips can help ease the stress and get your nurses feeling more like themselves again.
Strategy #1: Make them feel appreciated
Show your nurses how much you value them. Validate their feelings and empathize with their stress. Doing so takes $0 and can go a long way toward helping them find fulfillment in their work again.
Strategy #2: Give them some control over their schedules
It’s not always possible, but giving them the opportunity to volunteer for shifts and easily swap shifts when needed can offer them more work/life balance.
Strategy #3: Tame the chaos
Provide real-time visibility to schedules and staffing analytics. When managers can easily assess staffing conditions and make in-the-moment decisions after an employee calls out, it helps to ensure shifts are filled more quickly and reduces the stress for everyone.
Strategy #4: Offer equitable balanced workloads
Excessive overtime is bad for both nurses and the bottom line. An overtime management tool can offer you an eagle-eye view of overtime rates, notify you when employees are approaching overtime, and enable real-time decision making so you spread the work around.
Strategy #5: Help leaders become more efficient
The less time team leaders spend on tedious work like scheduling, credentialing, and time and attendance tracking, the more time they can spend monitoring and helping staff and patients. Adopting workforce management technology can dramatically boost their productivity so they can focus on what matters most.
Take the first step to addressing nurse burnout
Ultimately, the goal is to stop burnout in healthcare workers before it happens – and act fast when it does start to impact your team. These tips are a great place to start, but if you’d like more strategies and tools for overcoming the challenges of staff burnout in healthcare, connect with one of our workforce management experts today.
1 “15+ Nursing Burnout Statistics : The Shocking Truth About Nursing,” Jack Flynn, February 24, 2023, https://www.zippia.com/advice/nursing-burnout-statistics.
2 “Prevalence of and Factors Associated With Nurse Burnout in the US,” National Library of Medicine, Megha K. Shah, February 4, 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7862989/.
3 “Staffing problems, workplace violence on the rise, more than 2,500 nurses say,” Becker’s Hospital Review, Kelly Gooch, April 14, 2022, https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hr/staffing-problems-workplace-violence-on-the-rise-more-than-25-000-nurses-say.html.
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