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Burnout: How Can Nurse Leadership Help?

By Melanie Tribe-Scott, BSN, RN, RAC-MT, RAC-MTA, QCP                       

The U.S. Surgeon General recently issued an advisory highlighting the urgent need to address the health worker burnout crisis across the country (Office of the U.S. Surgeon General, 2022). In a press release, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stated that this advisory “lays out recommendations for healthcare organizations, health insurers, health technology companies, policymakers, academic institutions, researchers, and communities to address health worker burnout and ensure their well-being—so that health workers can thrive and better answer their call as healers” (HHS, 2022).

Nurse leaders are acutely aware that nurses who suffer from burnout are more likely to make errors in patient care, have more accidents on the job, and suffer from depression. Leaders worrying about burnout amongst their staff are asking, “What can I do to help?” They need practical advice to enhance their ability to prevent nurse burnout. This blog post offers real-world strategies to help leaders during staffing shortages as burnout reaches epidemic proportions.

Implement mental health screenings and awareness training

Let’s start with the basics. Mental health screenings are vital to identify issues early, before a person is in crisis. Mind Tools’ Burnout Self-Test, a tool that can identify burnout, can help team members self-assess (Mind Tools Content Team, n.d.).

Medical professionals’ perception of their peers’ opinions impacts their mental health and may deter nurses from acknowledging mental health issues. Mental health awareness training for healthcare workers can reduce the stigma they may attach to seeking professional help. As nurse leaders reinforce that it is a sign of strength to recognize challenges and seek assistance, they create conditions that enable staff to get the help they need.

Encourage staff to take care of themselves

Nurse leaders can also encourage nurses to engage in self-care. This may mean getting counseling, taking time off, or switching to a different department for a while. Encourage nurses not only to access mental health benefits available through the employer but also to prioritize their own mental health.

Consider flexible schedules

One of the most common causes of burnout is insufficient resources. Nurse leader may consider implementing flexible schedules and offer 4-, 6-, 8-, and 12-hour shifts. Flexible schedules can attract new staff and help with staff retention, as they permit employees to balance work and personal commitments.

Before implementing flexible schedules, it’s important to find out exactly what shifts and hours the nursing staff find the most desirable. Also, ask other facilities how they handle flexible schedules—every facility might implement this solution a little differently.

Offer a change in environment

Some nurses might find a change in the environment more helpful than a change in schedule to manage burnout. A change of environment offers the opportunity to work with new staff, residents, and management. If facilities have nurses at risk of burnout, a nurse share program with another facility can provide staff a change without permanently separating from the team. Such programs encourage facilities to trade nurses for approximately six months. The nurse gets a break without feeling guilt or shame, and both facilities benefit from the contributions of a nurse who is already trained and has a fresh new outlook.

If a facility cannot participate in or create a nurse share program, consider sharing with other departments. Licensed nurses can train in admissions, MDS, medical records, or infection control. Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) can train in housekeeping, dietary, and activities. The nurse or CNA then has the option of splitting hours between two departments or temporarily transferring to another department to avoid burnout.

Get creative with the hiring process

The current nursing shortage indisputably contributes to the rate of nurse burnout and fatigue. To ease the workload, nursing facilities may want to consider hiring employee types that may not have traditionally worked in a nursing home. For example, home health aides can help with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as bathing, dressing, preparing meals, eating, and hygiene needs. Medical assistants can also assist with ADLs by taking and monitoring the residents’ vital signs, assisting with documentation and transcription, and scheduling appointments.

The facility may benefit from “concierge” staff who assist residents with non-care needs, such as making phone or video calls, making beds, fetching linens, assisting with family visits, or answering call bells. And don’t forget the activities department—activities assistants can become certified to assist with feeding residents who do not have aspiration precautions. (Certification requirements may vary by state.)

Nurse leaders may not be able to stop every case of burnout. With the tips above, leaders can help those suffering from burnout by working to bolster staff mental health, shaping work conditions where possible, and decreasing workload when possible. Yet most importantly, listening to staff and involving them in the improvement of processes, staffing, and organizational culture can fundamentally transform their day-to-day outlook. By using these strategies and utilizing available resources, the nurse leader can help to reduce factors that lead to burnout.

References:

Mind Tools Content Team. (n.d.). Burnout self-test: Checking yourself for burnout. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_08.htm

Office of the U.S. Surgeon General. (2022). Addressing health worker burnout: The U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory on building a thriving health workforce. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/priorities/health-worker-burnout/index.html

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, May 23). New surgeon general advisory sounds alarm on health worker burnout and resignation. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2022/05/23/new-surgeon-general-advisory-sounds-alarm-on-health-worker-burnout-and-resignation.html

Other Resources:

Bursack, C.B. (2022, June 10). Compassion fatigue: When caregivers go beyond burnout. Aging Care. https://www.agingcare.com/articles/compassion-fatigue-caregivers-beyond-burnout-196224.htm

De Hert, S. (2020). Burnout in healthcare workers: Prevalence, impact and preventative strategies. Local and Regional Anesthesia, 2020(23), 171-183. https://doi.org/10.2147/LRA.S240564

Riethof, N., Petr, B., Laker, M., Varakova, K., Jiraskova, T., & Raboch, J. (2019). Burnout syndrome, mental splitting and depression in female health care professionals. Medical Science Monitor, 2019(25), 5237-5240. https://doi.org/10.12659/MSM.915360

Zhang, Y., Han, W., Qin, W., Yin, H., Zhang, C., Kong, C., & Wang, Y. (2018). Journal of Nursing Management, 26(7), 810-819. https://doi.org/10.111/jonm.12589

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