As frontline healthcare workers, nurses were already prone to burnout pre-pandemic due to understaffing and other workplace challenges. However, COVID-19 exacerbated nurse burnout to crisis levels across the U.S. healthcare system. Outcomes have been demonstrably worse at hospitals with years of poor staffing policies, yet many employers still struggle to adequately focus on this critical issue. 

Nurses are reaching a breaking point, and we must act quickly to address their burnout. If we don’t, patient care and safety could suffer. Healthcare employers must prioritize nurses’ wellbeing now. This means improving working conditions, staffing levels, and support systems. Lives are on the line, especially considering the toll COVID-19 has taken on our healthcare heroes. 

The Latest on Nurses’ Struggles

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses have faced overwhelming challenges that have taken a toll on their mental and emotional well-being. Despite some easing of staffing pressures, many nurses continue to feel unsupported and overwhelmed. 

While hospital leaders acknowledge the difficulties in retaining and recruiting nurses, staffing shortages exacerbate a strained workforce. Nurses still feel exhausted and disillusioned, with many expressing dissatisfactions with their work environments. 

Recent events, particularly the January 2024 strikes by healthcare workers, highlight the urgent need to address nurses’ challenges. These collective actions underscore nurses’ determination to bring about meaningful workplace changes.  

In regions such as Hawaii’s Kapiʻolani Medical Center and hospitals across other states, nurses have participated in strikes to advocate for improved working conditions and patient care standards. These strikes reflect nurses’ deep concerns regarding staffing ratios, compensation, and workplace safety. 

Additionally, a survey of 7,419 nurses by the American Nurses Foundation found that 43 percent of nurses are still burnt out.¹ This highlights the ongoing struggle within healthcare facilities, where employers have yet to address the root causes of burnout fully despite previous promises.  

  • No Work-Life Balance: Long shifts, demanding workloads and irregular hours leave nurses with little time for self-care, leading to emotional and physical exhaustion. 
  • Heavy Workloads: Juggling multiple responsibilities, including patient care, medication administration, treatment coordination, and medical documentation, compounded by nursing shortages, adds to the pressure and stress nurses experience. 
  • Traumatic Events: Exposure to accidents, violence, or patient deaths can result in emotional exhaustion, psychological distress, and compassion fatigue. 
  • Unsupportive Workplace: A significant portion (41 percent) of nurses feel unsupported at work, contributing to feelings of undervaluation, demoralization, and disengagement. 

These contribute significantly to nurse burnout. These challenges persist, leaving nurses emotionally and physically drained, underscoring the critical need for systemic change and support within the healthcare industry. 

Read More: The US Nurse Staffing Shortage in 2023 and Beyond 

The Impact of Nurse Burnout on Healthcare

Nurse burnout poses significant challenges to healthcare systems, with far-reaching implications for patient care quality, safety, and staffing. 

Decline in Patient Care Quality and Safety 

Nurse burnout significantly undermines patient care quality and safety. Exhausted nurses are more prone to medical errors, such as charting incorrect medication dosages, delayed monitoring alarms, or misdiagnosing symptoms. These errors directly jeopardize patient health and lives. 

Moreover, burnt-out nurses struggle to provide compassionate care, leading to dehumanized patient experiences that erode trust and satisfaction. Negative perceptions can damage a hospital’s reputation, exacerbating recruitment and retention challenges.  

Even more alarming is that for every 10 percent increase in burnt-out nurses on a unit, there’s a 28 percent rise in patient mortality.² When nurses lack the capacity to catch mistakes, patient safety suffers. This results in poorer patient outcomes, including higher infection rates, longer hospital stays, and increased risks of re-admission. 

High Turnover 

Nurse burnout has a profound impact on turnover rates. In fact, a survey revealed that nearly 100,000 registered nurses exited the field during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, and nearly 800,000 intend to leave by 2027.³  

Burnout diminishes job satisfaction and erodes nurses’ sense of fulfillment. Those grappling with emotional exhaustion and chronic stress often seek opportunities elsewhere, potentially exiting the nursing profession entirely. 

This turnover creates shortages in nursing staff and disrupts facility workflows, exacerbating existing challenges in providing quality patient care. 

Related Article: Impact of Nursing Shortage on Patient Safety 

Addressing Nurse Burnout: Employers’ Initiatives for Sustainable Healthcare

Burnout can be addressed, but it needs to be dealt with urgently to prevent its negative side effects on nurses and the people around them. Here are six ways you can help nurses as their leader or employer. 

Offer Flexible Work Schedules 

McKinsey & Company reports that 40 percent of nurses lack control over their workloads, which are often intense and hectic. Such overwhelming workloads have become commonplace in nursing. 

To combat nurse burnout effectively, consider implementing flexible work schedules. By acknowledging your nurses’ diverse needs and responsibilities, you can empower them to tailor their work hours to accommodate personal commitments and self-care. 

For instance, offering part-time hours, job-sharing arrangements, or virtual care options can alleviate stress and enhance well-being among your nursing staff. Providing greater autonomy and control over work can significantly reduce burnout. 

Empower Nurses to Excel 

Improve your nurses’ condition by enhancing their engagement and satisfaction. You can do this by aligning their skills, passions, and interests to their job responsibilities and roles. By harnessing their expertise and strengths, your facility can create an environment for skill development, professional growth, and career advancement. 

On top of this, you may also want to help reinforce their values and sense of purpose by appreciating and recognizing them. This can motivate them to continue their good work and excel in their roles. 

Involve Them in Decision-Making 

Empower your nurses by involving them in the decision-making within your facilities. You may establish nurse advisory committees that ensure open communication to gather the feedback and opinions of nurses in policy development. 

Open communication cultivates an environment where your nurses can feel comfortable expressing their concerns and ideas. Take for example, inviting your nurses to contribute to policy development to ensure that they feel heard. Doing this can allow them to contribute more to improving patient care as you foster a collaborative and respectful culture. 

Automate Administrative Tasks 

Help your nurses focus better on patient care by lessening the administrative tasks they have to handle. You can implement technological solutions, such as automating documentation systems and having electronic health records (EHRs). Doing this can help improve their efficiency and allow them more time to care for and engage their patients in clinical activities. 

You may also delegate administrative and non-clinical responsibilities to support staff to empower your nurses to provide high-quality care. 

Related Article: Chasing Global Nursing Dreams? AI Can Help Nurture Your English Proficiency 

Provide Therapy and Support Programs 

Acknowledging that your nurses are burning out is the first step to addressing this issue. The second is to provide them with support programs and to encourage them to seek help. 

You can provide them with peer support groups, counseling services, and resilience training programs to equip them with resources and coping skills to help them effectively navigate the challenges of their roles. 

Providing them with necessary care also destigmatizes mental health concerns and can empower them to seek help when they need it. This can also make them feel valued and supported in an inclusive workplace. 

Enhance Staffing Resources 

Don’t hesitate to seek additional support if your nursing team is overwhelmed by staffing shortages. You may consider partnering with specialized healthcare staffing firms can alleviate the strain on your current nursing staff and ensure quality patient care. Employers can effectively address burnout and maintain optimal care standards by collaborating with staffing agencies. 

Read More: The PRS Advantage: Your Path to Sustainable Healthcare Staffing 

EXPAND YOUR NURSING TEAM WITH PRS GLOBAL

You can help your nurses address burnout by expanding your teams. Don’t worry about your nursing shortage, as PRS Global is here to help you find the best nurses from around the globe. Our process is quicker than most and affordable. Get in touch with us today to know how we can help your facility address its staffing needs. 

References 

1 “Mental Health and Wellness Survey 4.” ANA Enterprise, www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/work-environment/health-safety/disaster-preparedness/coronavirus/what-you-need-to-know/survey-4/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024. 

2 Galanis, Petros et al. “Increased Job Burnout and Reduced Job Satisfaction for Nurses Compared to Other Healthcare Workers after the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Nursing Reports, vol. 13, no. 3, 2023, pp. 1090–1100. Published online 14 Aug. 2023, doi: 10.3390/nursrep13030095. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10443294/ 

3 Martin, Brendan, et al. “Examining the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Burnout and Stress Among U.S. Nurses.” Journal of Nursing Regulation, vol. 14, no. 1, 2023, pp. 4-12. Published online 5 Apr. 2023, doi:10.1016/S2155-8256(23)00063-7. URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10074070/ 

4 “Understanding and Prioritizing Nurses’ Mental Health and Well-being.” McKinsey & Company, 6 Nov. 2023, www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare/our-insights/understanding-and-prioritizing-nurses-mental-health-and-well-being