3 Ways to Address Nursing Burnout During the Pandemic

Senior Director of Marketing

The number of nurses experiencing burnout is trending up and has been since before the COVID-19 pandemic. That burnout comes with a hefty price tag. The National Taskforce for Humanity in Healthcare estimates that nursing burnout costs hospitals $9 billion every year. Disengagement and lost productivity drive frequent turnover and can result in lost reimbursement from failing to meet patient-satisfaction and quality-care outcomes.

Not surprisingly, the pandemic has worsened mental health among nurses, leading to increased burnout. In a recent survey of front-line nurses, 64% of respondents reported feeling more stressed at their jobs than they did one year ago. And nearly half said they don’t feel like their organization is doing enough to support their mental health and well-being.

Hospitals and health systems must holistically address nursing burnout. Here are a few ways to make a positive impact.

Empower Self-Management

Minimize burnout by giving nurses a greater sense of control over their schedules and processes within their unit. “Nurses need to be most involved in deciding what needs to happen,” says Beverly Malone, CEO at the National League for Nursing. “It’s their lives.”

Since solutions may vary by unit, don’t impose top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions. Minimizing burnout requires solutions customized to each unit’s needs.

HR should facilitate self-leadership among nurses so that they can take more control over their own work lives. Help each unit work out a schedule that balances personal needs with providing adequate coverage on the floor.

Encourage the use of mental health resources, too, to help nurses gain a better sense of control over their mental health. Make sure nurses have access to free counseling and therapy. Healthcare workers are going to have post-traumatic stress disorder from working through the pandemic, Malone says, but these services can help them cope.

Improve Processes to Minimize Stress

Optimizing processes is a vital component of reducing nursing burnout. “We have to stop blaming the individual for being burned out and acknowledge that it is the work, with complex or broken processes, that is burning them out,” says Rhonda Collins, Chief Nursing Officer at Vocera. Look to Magnet hospitals for a model. These hospitals empower nurses to drive organizational change.

Bring in a consultant to work directly with nurses and other stakeholders to develop templates for better process solutions, Malone says. Empower nurse leaders to audit workloads and to offload tasks that don’t need to be a nurse’s responsibility. By reassigning tasks, nurses can focus on their core function without additional stressors.

Give Nurses Space to Recover

Nurses are being bombarded with stressors from their work and personal lives. Those are compounded by fear of contracting COVID-19 or spreading the virus to loved ones. Nurses need space to escape constant stressors, but taking a few minutes here and there isn’t enough.

“Providing relaxation rooms and mindfulness moments to help support individual well-being in stressful healthcare environments is important,” Collins says. “However, giving nurses five minutes every hour to find solace, only to return to the same chaotic environment, isn’t a sustainable solution.”

Implement travel and temporary nurses to give your full-time staff designated time off. Nurse leaders are most in tune with what their teams need, so consult them to identify when to call in external reinforcements.

Taking steps to address nursing burnout supports better mental health for your employees and better outcomes for your patients. When nurses are empowered to exercise more control over their time and processes, they can find space to maintain their mental wellness.