“Nurse burnout” is becoming an all-too-common phenomenon in the nursing field. In fact, according to Becker's Health Review, 70 percent of nurses report feeling exhausted and burned out at some point during their careers. Not only can this state affect your mood, habits, and overall health, but it can also have a serious impact on your patients’ well-being. On top of that, nurse burnout can also become far costlier than most people think.
What Is Nurse Burnout?
Nurse burnout is mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion caused by stress, job dangers, and frustration at work. It’s a constant feeling of helplessness, one that often leads to illnesses and career dissatisfaction. Burnout is most common in night shift nurses and those who work 12+ hours at a time.
The term burnout was first used in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger to describe the emotional and physical stress experienced by those who worked in “helping” professions like nursing. Since then, the definition has expanded to include the overall physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion a person can feel, and is often characterized by complete disengagement and detachment from their jobs. It's important to understand that this kind of burnout isn’t your typical job stress. Stress is usually felt when someone is overengaged, while burnout is the extreme emotional and physical effects caused by stress.
Here are some of the latest statistics on nurse burnout rates and causes, as well as some strategies that could help you avoid becoming a statistic yourself.
What Is the Burnout Rate for Nurses?
According to a 2017 survey by Kronos, Inc., 85 percent of nurses reported feeling fatigued by their work, and 63 percent said that they are currently experiencing burnout from their jobs. Here are a few more statistics this survey uncovered regarding nurse burnout rates:
- 93 percent reported feeling mentally and/or physically tired at the end of the workday.
- 90 percent of nurses said that they had considered leaving the hospital they worked at to find a different job with better work-life balance.
- 56 percent of all respondents reported driving home drowsy after a shift; 12 percent actually pulled their vehicle off the road to get some rest.
- 44 percent were concerned that the level of care they could provide patients would suffer because of their fatigue.
- 37 percent of nurses said that they were worried about making a mistake at work; 11 percent admitted to making mistakes due to fatigue.
- 28 percent admitted to calling in sick just so they could rest.
In 2017, the RN network conducted its own survey in which it polled approximately 600 nurses. Here are some statistics that jumped out at us:
- 50 percent of respondents said that they have considered leaving the nursing profession entirely.
- 27 percent of those nurses explained that this was because they felt overworked.
What Causes Nurse Burnout?
A variety of factors can cause a nurse to burn out, but some play a more significant role than others. According to the nurses polled in the Kronos survey, the following are four key factors that can lead to nurse burnout:
1. Overwhelming Workloads
98 percent of respondents said that their work is physically and mentally demanding. On top of that, 60 percent of respondents reported having way too many patients and tasks to manage at one time.
2. No Breaks During Shifts
42 percent reported feeling fatigued because they weren’t able to take lunch and dinner breaks during shifts; 41 percent reported not being able to take ANY breaks.
3. Lack of Adequate Sleep
25 percent reported not being able to get enough sleep between their shifts. Having irregular work hours can contribute to nurses’ lack of sleep because this can disrupt their regular sleep patterns.
4. Excessively Long Shifts
24 percent reported that 12-hour shifts (as opposed to eight-hour shifts) was another key factor that contributed to their feelings of fatigue and burnout. (A 2012 study from the National Institute of Nursing Research backed this up.)
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Other factors that can cause nurses to burn out include poor leadership or management, lack of upward mobility, bullying from colleagues and administrators, and the emotional baggage that comes with caring for very sick or dying patients.
What Are Some Common Symptoms of Nurse Burnout?
Nurses who experience burnout typically resent their job and feel hopeless about making a change. Some of the most common symptoms that accompany burnout are:
These emotions are usually accompanied by sickness, depression, and thoughts of being unproductive or useless. Understandably, burnout can often cause people to leave the nursing profession entirely, or feel trapped in a career that they no longer love or maybe even resent.
The following scenarios illustrate how these symptoms typically manifest in real life.
You cancel plans frequently. You may even avoid making them due to scheduling issues — or just simply not feeling up to it.
New staffers may describe you as cold and distant. Perhaps it’s because you feel frustrated or “stuck” in your current role, or as if you’re just another cog in the hospital's wheel.
You can’t fall asleep when you need to and may even rely on sleep medications. You often oversleep to make up for lack of sleep, but you never wake up feeling rested.
Resentment of Patients or Doctors
You’re holding a few grudges against co-workers, intentionally avoiding certain colleagues and patients, or even being condescending to people at work. This daily frustration and anger is not your typical personality.
You seem to come down with every passing virus. The stress of nurse burnout not only brings emotional symptoms, but physical ones as well. These may include a weakened immune system, digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome and constipation, and even heart palpitations.
The Real Cost of Nurse Burnout
When nurses burn out and leave the profession, healthcare facilities pay a high price. Although it’s not possible to pinpoint the EXACT dollar figure for how much nurse burnout costs the healthcare industry on an annual basis, researchers have tried to give us close approximations. Take a look at some of the statistics they've come up with:
- According to the National Academy of Medicine, RN turnover typically costs U.S. hospitals about 1.2 to 1.3 times their salary (due to replacement costs). Let’s put this into context: If an RN was making $70,000 a year and decided to leave her hospital, her departure alone would cost the institution between $84,000 and $91,000.
- Healthcare Business Today notes that “the average cost of turnover for a bedside RN ranges from $38,900 to $59,700. This results in the average hospital losing $5.13 to $7.86 million annually.”
- The National Taskforce for Humanity in Healthcare estimates that nurse burnout costs hospitals $9 billion a year, and the healthcare industry at-large about $14 billion a year.
Of course, the actual “costs” associated with nurse burnout extend beyond just financial losses. Specifically, researchers continue to discover significant relationships between nurse burnout and the frequency of nurse medical errors, the rates of healthcare-associated infections in patients, and even in the rates of patient deaths.
13 Things You Can Do to Prevent Yourself From Burning Out
You can’t properly care for others if you don’t address your own needs first. Performing self-care when you're off-duty will put you in a better place to be the best nurse you can be once you get back on the floor.
Easier said than done, right? To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of things you can do to prevent yourself from burning out. Here are 11 changes you can make to offset your risk of burning out as a nurse.
1. Be okay with putting yourself first.
To someone who’s committed their life to caring for others, this can sound almost counterintuitive. But if you want to provide your patients with high-quality care, you have to put your own health and well-being ahead of everything else. This doesn’t need to be complicated, either; it can be as simple as making sure you’re eating right, getting enough sleep, and even getting a little exercise in every day.
2. Delegate tasks to colleagues, as appropriate.
Sixty percent of respondents in the Kronos study attributed their burnout to having unmanageable workloads. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider delegating some tasks to colleagues who you know are equipped to handle them (and whose workloads are more reasonable). Before you do so, though, make sure to double-check that your manager is comfortable with you delegating tasks to others, and that your state laws allow you to do so.
3. Take breaks.
Forty-one percent of survey respondents said that they felt burned out because they didn’t take any breaks. Sometimes this happens because there’s just too much to do and not enough staff to do it. (In those instances, it’s your manager’s responsibility to find ways to give everyone a break.) Be sure to take time to reset and recharge. Just 15 minutes of walking, meditating, knitting, or reading a book can improve your mental state.
4. Talk to your manager.
Twenty-five percent of respondents said that they weren’t getting sufficient sleep between shifts, which ultimately led to them feeling burned out. One reason for this was that they were working irregular schedules or being asked to pick up additional shifts. If this sounds like you, consider sitting down with your manager to discuss what's going on and how you're feeling. Remember that they're there to help you be successful. You may want to ask for a lighter workload or get advice on how they personally handle feelings of burnout.
5. Adjust your work cycle.
Work with your manager to create a healthy work cycle to which your body can adjust. Having a stable schedule will allow you to establish a regular sleep routine that works for your body and helps you recharge. Consider working one morning shift, one afternoon shift, one night shift, and then two days off to gradually adjust your body’s circadian rhythm to help combat sleep deprivation.
6. Make changes in your work environment.
The physical space in which you live and work can have a big impact on how you feel. So, take the lead on improving it every once in a while. Try adding fresh flowers to brighten it up, hanging up inspirational quotes to lift your teammates’ moods (check out this Pinterest board), or working with your colleagues to reduce clutter and create a more organized space.
7. Find a support system.
There’s strength in numbers—and in sharing your feelings. See if there’s a nurse support group you can join, either in your hospital or your local community. Want something less formal? Consider getting together some co-workers or friends in similar professions with whom you know you can talk openly. Make a point to stress the importance of positivity and confidentiality.
8. Adopt some go-to techniques to help you decompress.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with stress: some people meditate or do deep-breathing exercises, some knit, and others listen to music. There’s no one right way to decompress, so try a variety of techniques and see which one works best. Once you find the activity that works best for you, set aside 30 minutes a day to do it as a way to recharge your brain. This will increase your resilience whenever you start feeling the symptoms of stress creep in.
9. Add some healthy fun into your life.
Disconnecting from work stress is an absolute necessity in your field. Plan one outing a week and see how it feels. Spending time at the gym, going out for lunch with a coworker or friend, or even setting up a regular date night with your significant other are all good ways to get your social life back on track.
10. Schedule exercise.
Small bursts of daily exercise will encourage evening relaxation and boost endorphins to help your mood. Try taking a walk during a break or jumping rope when you wake up. You might even want to get some kind of step-counting device or app and challenge yourself to hit 10,000 steps a day.
11. Cut out junk food and limit caffeine.
As tempting as they are, foods with high saturated fat content have been linked to lighter, less restorative sleep. And, surprisingly, the effects of caffeine (even as much as six hours before bedtime) can reduce your sleep by an hour. Fend off cravings by taking fruit, veggies, and tea to work with you—and be sure to drink lots of water.
12. Take time to be proud of yourself.
As humans, we have a tendency to focus on what we've done wrong, rather than on what we did right. Consider keeping a journal of your experiences and cases (just don’t mention any patient names). Aim at pointing out the value you’ve added, both big and small. This will give you a reminder of everyone you’ve helped and of your successes.
13. Find a trusted therapist.
Don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. In fact, many hospitals provide an on-site psychologist for their employees to use when they need it. Therapists are invaluable resources because they give you the chance to share everything you’re feeling and thinking in a safe and confidential environment. They’re required to be impartial and objective, so they’re the perfect sounding boards when you have any issues or concerns you need to work through. Additionally, they also can equip you with the tools you need to prevent or overcome nurse burnout.