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Companies are finding out that a well-rested employee is a more productive employee, especially when it comes to the healthcare industry.

3 ways to combat nurse burnout

Posted on by Blake Pinto

Elnora Armstead MSN knows she should get more sleep. With an average of six to seven hours, the Dallas Nursing Institute’s Associate Degree in Nursing instructor admits that she does what many nurses do: prioritize themselves last. But she does have three tips to help nurses start improving their own mental health to avoid nurse burnout.

In 1960, medical researcher and author I.E.P. Menzies identified the four most common sources of anxiety among nurses: patient care, decision-making, taking responsibility, and change. Tack on the stress of physical labor, human suffering, work hours, staffing, and interpersonal relationships, and it’s easy to understand why nurses become burned-out at a quicker rate. Now, add in technology, which first became available to the medical profession in the 1980s. According to Armstead, technology has potentially made the nursing profession more stressful even with its conveniences.

“It has a purpose, but I do believe it has contributed to stress,” says Armstead. “For instance, when giving out medication using the Parenteral Drug Association, you have to do it in a timely manner. Life and work in a hospital is not always on a schedule. Yes, it should be on a schedule, but things do not always fit into that schedule. And when a nurse has to adjust to that, without the backup support or enough staffing, then that becomes a stressful situation.”

The 2011 Journal of Sleep study (via Chicago Tribune) reports that employee insomnia was costing U.S. companies a startling $63 billion a year in lost productivity. Attitudes among employers are allegedly changing because of that, with companies learning that well-rested, refreshed workers are more productive. But it may be up for debate whether nurses are seeing this nap-happy shift in the healthcare industries.

“Nurses, in general, are trying to figure out how to eliminate the stress and the burnout,” says Armstead.

One of the techniques used in an attempt to decrease nurse burnout, especially during daylight savings time, is a night shift nurse kit. Ironically Armstead, who has worked nights for 15 years, had never heard of such a thing. While some include healthy snacks such as  dried fruits, nuts, oatmeal, breakfast bars, and water, some nurse “kits” include things that can’t be packaged: swapping interesting stories with colleagues for stress relief and laughter, managing sleeping cycles, and regular exercise.

The Joint Commission Sentinel Event Alert reports several studies linking reduced productivity with high levels of worker fatigue from extended work hours. Some of the factors contributing to reduced productivity include lapses in attention, inability to focus, reduced motivation, memory lapses, faulty judgment, and less empathy. Two consistent resolutions to reduce these risks were sleep hygiene and educating health care workers about how fatigue can put patients’ safety at risk.

And Armstead, a nurse for almost two decades, understands how this can happen. She also has a few other ideas for lowering nurse burnout for nurses nationwide.

  • Put yourself first. Make sure that you eat healthy meals. Make a meal schedule if you have to, and track your hours of sleep. Some people prefer to work long shifts, but really working 12-hour shifts is almost torture on your body. You spend your days off just trying to catch up on sleep. It might be a better idea to go back to the eight-hour shift. And if you can’t reduce your work hours, at least be adamant about taking necessary breaks or take a rest period if you work nights. Be sure to take full advantage of your breaks by taking a walk or doing something that relaxes you.
  • Acknowledge work stress in order to find better ways to resolve it. We live in an environment that’s high stress. Sometimes having someone to say, “I’m stressed” to is a way of relieving some of the stress that you’re feeling because it gives you an outlet. A counselor, a senior, or a mentor is good.
  • Find ways to treat family stress. Sometimes people have medical health issues that they or their family members are dealing with. In addition to work stress, they have to deal with things going on at home, which can hurt their work environment and potentially affect patient care. Find outside emotional support, whether it be spiritually, socially, or in a personal relationship. Look at your family as a team, and in the household say, “This is what’s happening. This is what I need. This is what I need to get away from.”