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Nurse Satisfaction and Burnout: It’s Not Just Nurses’ Problem Anymore


Nurse burnout

Recently, at the Synova Associates NICU Leadership Forum in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, almost 200 nurse managers and leaders from NICU departments came together, from across the country.  From conference-organized yoga to guided breathing exercises before sessions to coloring books handed out for “color therapy,” one theme immediately stood out: Mindfulness and the need for strategies to cope with extremely high-stress work environments.

As staff nurses and nursing leaders, you spend so much time focusing on others at work–whether it’s patients, patients’ families, or staff in your charge–that your own wellbeing can too often be neglected. Poor work-life balance can lead to high stress, exhaustion, and burnout across industries, all of which can contribute to serious physical and mental health concerns. But the focus in nursing and nurse management on consistently prioritizing the needs of others above your own heightens these risks. And for the first time, these risks don’t just threaten individual nurses and units; it’s become critical for facilities to address issues around nurse satisfaction, retention, and burnout if they want to remain viable.

In addition to the serious nursing shortage (long predicted but slow to materialize) now looming as baby boomer nurses start to retire in large numbers and an aging population increases the demand for healthcare, a key reason for this is one every nurse and most patients already know. It’s not just that nurses and related staff, as the largest group of healthcare providers, are critical to providing safe, effective patient care; they also have, by far, the biggest impact on patients’ experience of the care they receive. Ask anyone who’s had a recent hospital stay about his or her experience, and the response is likely to focus on nurses–the day to day care providers; many polls have also shown nurses to be the most trusted of any profession (including doctors). And with the shift to value-based care, facilities have to focus on care quality and patient satisfaction if they want to ensure their profitability and success.

There are several initiatives proactive departments and facilities can implement to improve nurse engagement and satisfaction. If you’re just starting out as a nurse or looking for a new job, seek out departments doing these things; and if you’re well-established, suggest them.

  1. Continually solicit nurse feedback about what stresses them out and negatively impacts work-life balance. At the conference, a nurse leader from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital shared a simple way their NICU started to gather more feedback from nurses during a period of high unit stress. At the end of each shift, they asked nurses to indicate how their shift went by placing color-coded balls in different fishbowls: yellow for a great, well-supported shift; orange for a busy but manageable shift; and red for a very stressful shift in which the nurse did not feel supported. This gave management a quick visual representation of how any given shift had gone. They also asked for feedback about why things had felt the way they did and started to track the results over time.
  2. Plan team-building activities and events. At Cincinnati Children’s, one factor turned out to be even more important than patient assignments when it came to nurse stress: Colleague supportiveness. Nurses were more likely to comment about who they worked with and their colleague’s attitudes and desire to help than any other factor. As the presenter noted, “It was really all about teamwork!” Studies have shown that nurses’ job satisfaction increases when they rate their department’s teamwork higher, and polls across industries have long shown that having close friends at work significantly impacts job satisfaction and enjoyment.
  3. Give nurses a seat at the table when it comes to selecting department technology. A NICU nurse leader from OHSU spoke at the conference about how it was staff nurses using the free NurseGrid Mobile app who suggested that her department start using NurseGrid Manager to simplify team communication and real-time staff and schedule changes. This not only made it easier to roll out, but it also improved nurse collaboration and satisfaction as nurses taught each other how to use the technology and felt empowered that they had come up with the idea rather than having it forced on them from above.
  4. Take nurses’ preferences into account in staffing decisions. Managing overtime and labor costs doesn’t have to be contentious. Forward-thinking departments are using technology that makes it easy for nurses to share their availability and preferences so managers can make mutually beneficial decisions as patient census and acuity change.
  5. Give nurses a way to see who they’re working with on each shift. This is one of the most popular features of NurseGrid Mobile, which makes sense given teamwork and colleagues seem to have such a big impact on how well a shift goes for each nurse.

If your department has implemented any successful tactics to improve team engagement and satisfaction, share them in the comments below!



This post was Sponsored by NurseGrid


Jordan Enright-Schulz
Jordan oversees all marketing and content efforts for NurseGrid, which makes integrated, intuitive staffing and communication tools just for nurses and nursing departments.

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