From Surviving to Thriving: How to Prevent Nurse Burnout in High-Intensity Roles
High-intensity nursing roles demand unwavering dedication and a commitment to providing exceptional patient care. However, the demanding nature of these roles can take a toll on nurses, leading to a common issue: burnout.
Nurse burnout not only affects the individual nurse, but also has far-reaching implications for patient care and healthcare organizations as a whole. Naturally, burnout leads to decreased job satisfaction, and even lower care quality and safety issues. It can also have detrimental effects on nurses’ physical and mental health, leading to higher absenteeism, turnover, and a loss of valuable nursing talent. But recognizing the importance of addressing nurse burnout goes beyond nurse wellbeing. It’s an essential step in fostering a culture of excellence and compassion within a sustainable workforce staffing model.
In this article, we explore effective strategies for overcoming nurse burnout and transforming the experience of high-intensity nursing. We also delve into the various factors contributing to nurse burnout, the signs and symptoms to watch for, and practical techniques for prevention and management.
Unraveling the Depths of Nurse Burnout
If you’re wondering just how prevalent burnout is for nurses and critical care professionals, consider this: Zippia found that that 2.7 million U.S. nurses report feeling burnt out. That’s not only a large share of all nurses in the U.S. (about 64%), but it also means these overworked clinicians account for roughly 15% of the total healthcare workforce.
Houston, we have a problem.
Nurse burnout entails so much more than simply feeling tired or stressed. It’s a state of chronic exhaustion, emotional detachment, and a reduced sense of accomplishment that can significantly impact critical care professionals’ wellbeing and effectiveness.
The symptoms of nurse burnout can manifest in various ways, including:
- Physical, mental and emotional exhaustion
- Sleep issues, including insomnia or sleeping too much
- Self-doubt, depression and/or anxiety
- Loss of inspiration
- Appetite and weight issues
- Cynicism about the job; feeling powerless to change the situation
These symptoms are not to be ignored. Better yet, the healthcare ecosystem needs to apply resources to prevention. Grind culture can be damaging to people no matter the industry. But add the stress of a high-intensity healthcare role, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Applying the many painful learnings of a nation in crisis during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare needs remove the root causes of burnout as soon as possible. The growing needs of an aging population will require a fully staffed and prepared frontline workforce led in large part by nurses.
Unveiling the Sources of Nurse Burnout
While burnout is an incredibly individual experience, there are some common factors that contribute to burnout in high-intensity nursing roles. From demanding work environments and long, irregular shifts to high patient acuity and constant exposure to suffering and traumatic events, these things can all take a toll on nurses’ mental and emotional resilience.
There are plenty of internal pressures that drive burnout as well, keeping in mind how highly individual this can be. For example, pressure to meet high expectations, manage heavy patient volume and workload, and lacking control over one’s work environment can create a sense of overwhelm and helplessness for many nurses.
And let’s not forget to flip the other side of the coin: Boredom burnout, aka “boreout,” as Forbes refers to it. And according to BBC, studies have shown that boreout can cause depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, and higher turnover.
Recognizing Burnout Signs and Symptoms
Physically, nurses in active states of burnout commonly experience a number of unpleasant red flags: headaches, digestive issues, sleep problems, chronic fatigue and a weakened immune system leading to frequent illnesses are all common indicators.
Burnout also often manifests through emotional and psychological signs. These can include a sense of helplessness, increased cynicism, and a pervasive feeling of failure or self-doubt. Decreased satisfaction with work, feeling detached or alone in the world, and a loss of motivation are also common emotional indicators of burnout.
Lastly, behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout may include reduced performance levels across everyday tasks, withdrawal or isolation from colleagues and loved ones, procrastination and difficulty taking initiative, outbursts of frustration or anger, and resorting to substance use as a coping mechanism.
By being attuned to these personal signs, critical care professionals and their leaders can take proactive measures to address burnout before it escalates. For some, this might include engaging in self-reflection, seeking support from colleagues or mentors, and utilizing coping strategies tailored to their specific needs.
While individual measures are critical, it’s still essential for leaders within healthcare organizations to take proactive measures themselves to ensure their workplace culture is set up to always support nurses—not just during times of higher stress.
Three Strategies to Empower Nurses to Overcome Burnout
To get ahead of nurse burnout, it’s essential to implement a range of strategies that promote wellbeing and resilience.
Strategy #1 – Building a Supportive Work Environment
Creating a supportive work environment rooted in empathy and understanding can help nurses feel supported and validated in their experiences, reducing feelings of isolation and burnout. According to the National Library of Medicine, a supportive work environment for nurses means having the appropriate autonomy, adequate staff and resources, and good working relationships with physicians and management. When these conditions are in place, nurses are 28% less likely to experience burnout.
Additionally, open communication and collaboration opportunities among colleagues can build camaraderie and a sense of shared responsibility. This community can be leaned on as a personal resource of support for nurses and critical care professionals. These connections often yield a wealth of collective guidance, shared experiences, inspiration and motivation.
Strategy #2 – Fostering a Work-Life Balance Culture
Just like other industries, promoting work-life balance is crucial in preventing nurse burnout and enhancing overall wellbeing. Healthcare organizations can set the precedent for this culture by encouraging clear boundaries between work and personal life—respecting nurses’ personal time and availability outside of working hours, allowing for flexibility in scheduling, and providing resources for stress reduction and self-care, to name a few. In fact, studies show that flextime actually boosts performance rather than hindering it.
By prioritizing work-life balance, organizations demonstrate their commitment to the wellbeing of their nursing staff. This not only helps prevent burnout but also enhances job satisfaction, retention, and overall performance. Creating a culture that values personal time and self-care can be an enticing differentiator for skilled nursing talent who more than ever know their worth and want adequate time to rest and recharge.
Strategy #3 – Cultivating Professional Development and Growth
Lastly, healthcare organizations should prioritize nurse and critical care professionals with ample opportunities for professional development and growth. It may seem counterintuitive to leverage ongoing education and training as a burnout-mitigation strategy but consider this: Engaging in ongoing learning and growth has proven to not only prevent stagnation but also reignite passion, motivation, and sense of purpose and fulfillment. As we discussed above, chronic boredom at work can lead to “boreout,” causing negative effects such as procrastination, decreased performance and reduced creativity amongst employees.
If you want to keep your nurses feeling valued and engaged, providing them with access to continuous learning and advancement opportunities is key. By doing so, healthcare organizations empower nurses to maintain a sense of excitement and engagement in their work—ultimately mitigating the risk of burnout and promoting long-term career satisfaction.
Let Remede Help Nurses Achieve a Better Balance
The importance of addressing nurse burnout in high-intensity roles cannot be overstated. By recognizing the signs, understanding the contributing factors, and implementing effective strategies, nurses, critical care professionals and healthcare organizations can come together to overcome burnout on an individual and systemic level. It’s a journey that requires ongoing commitment to personal wellbeing and cultivating a supportive work environment—a journey that cannot be walked alone.
At Remede, we understand the unique pressures and demands faced by critical care professionals, and we’re committed to supporting nurses and healthcare organizations alike in overcoming and mitigating burnout at work. We invite you to explore our resources, services, and tailored opportunities for professional development and growth. Together, we can create a culture that prioritizes wellbeing and makes resilience possible.
One final message to our valued nurses and critical care professionals everywhere: Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish—it’s essential. Prioritize self-care, stress management, and resilience-building techniques to protect your wellbeing. And thank you for remembering to take good care of you, first and foremost.