6 Reasons Nurses Experience Burnout


There are many reasons nurses experience burnout regularly in their profession.

It includes exposure to viruses, work overload, workplace violence, and numerous other factors.

Burnout reduces work and personal happiness/satisfaction, focus, employee safety, and various aspects of medical care.

In addition, it negatively affects patient safety and coworker morale.

This article covers common causes of nurse burnout to understand the impact of long-term stress and work dissatisfaction.

1. Work Overload | Patient Volume

Work overload in nursing results from the high patient volume, inadequate staffing, overtime, and increased expectations.

Unfortunately, it reduces patient safety, medical care, and hospital stay times and increases medical errors.

It also stresses nurses to perform at peak levels despite overwhelming and sometimes unachievable expectations.

Nursing is a challenging profession, even with adequate staffing and support.

However, it’s problematic when nurses receive increasing workloads with inadequate support to manage high patient volumes.

Combating workload requires having adequate staff-to-patient ratios.

It also requires healthcare facilities to ensure nurses receive work they can handle tasks with minimal overload.

Finally, proper training, management, and support are necessary to manage work overload and expectations and maintain morale.

Managing overload during unexpected events like a pandemic or disaster is challenging.

However, healthcare facilities must ensure they provide lots of support to nurses dealing with stress.

Otherwise, burnout is possible, leading some nurses to have reduced performance or to quit their profession entirely.

2. Work Violence | Workplace Safety

Workplace violence in nursing is a lesser publicly known but genuine issue among healthcare workers.

According to the National Library of Medicine, nearly 40% of nurses experience verbal abuse, and 11% experience physical violence.

In addition, 25.4% of nurses experience mobbing, 9.1% experience sexual harassment, and 5.4% report racial discrimination.

Perhaps even worse, nurses reported that healthcare facilities could have prevented 90% of incidents of violence.

Based on these numbers, it’s easy to understand how workplace violence and safety issues deeply affect nurses’ performance and stress.

Even nurses who do not experience these issues personally witness these occurrences happening to other nurses.

Over time, workplace violence and safety issues lead to mental health issues, job dissatisfaction, and burnout.

3. Staffing Shortages | Lack of Support

Nurse staffing shortages have numerous negative consequences on the healthcare system, patient care, and nurses.

A lack of qualified nurses in any hospital reduces employee morale, workplace safety, and length of patient stays.

It also increases opportunities for medical errors, employee and patient dissatisfaction, and conflict.

Numerous factors currently influence and continue to influence the nursing shortage.

It includes an increasing demand for new nurses to replace an aging workforce and an aging population requiring additional medical assistance.

In addition, healthcare reform and a limited number of educators to provide adequate education for new nursing students also contribute to the nursing crises.

Educational institutes need more educators to prepare nursing students for healthcare workers successfully.

Otherwise, the registered nursing shortage will continue to outpace the successful replacement of aging healthcare.

The nursing gap will also outpace the aging population creating an even more significant gap between healthcare workers and patients.

4. Sleep Deprivation

Many nurses experience sleep deprivation due to work stress and long work hours.

According to PubMed.gov, 55% of nurses in the United States work more than 40 hours per week.

In addition, 30%-70% of nurses receive less than six-hour of sleep before work.

Sleep deprivation can lead to many personal and professional health issues.

For instance, inadequate sleep increases the risk of patient safety issues and medical errors.

It also reduces the cognitive performance, morale, and positive attitude of the individual who receives inadequate rest.

Healthcare work and nursing are high-stress professions.

Therefore, proper rest and recovery are essential for the employees and the patients they serve.

Over time a lack of adequate sleep increases long-term stress and enhances the effects of burnout.

5. Virus, Disease, and Infection Exposure

Nurses experience numerous stressful events daily in healthcare.

One of the most stressful parts of nursing is exposure to viruses, diseases, or infections.

It’s particularly true during a pandemic like the SARS-Covid 19 (Coronavirus).

Nurses must provide exceptional healthcare to patients while adequately protecting themselves from illness.

It can be challenging for stressed nurses who lack adequate rest and recovery.

The nursing shortage also contributes to a higher workload, leading to medical errors and personal safety risks.

Finally, some patients with illnesses/diseases show little regard for nurse safety, making it difficult to protect themselves adequately.

Exposure to viruses, diseases, and infections also impacts the families of healthcare workers.

As a result, many nurses worry about getting family members sick.

The continual worry causes long-term stress, decreasing performance and morale and influencing burnout.

6. Death and Illness

Death and illness are, unfortunately, a regular part of healthcare work.

That said, it’s always tricky to experience patients suffering or dying from illnesses, injuries, or medical complications.

Some nurses internalize patient loss and blame themselves, decreasing happiness, morale, and performance.

Over time these experiences add up, leaving some healthcare workers feeling hopeless and demotivated.

It impacts everyone differently; not all healthcare workers deal well with death and illness.

Robust support systems, mental health, and proper rest/recovery are necessary to manage the many stresses of healthcare work.

Death and illness are components of stress.

When you add staffing shortages, workplace violence, sleep deprivation, and illness exposure, burnout becomes increasingly detrimental to performance.

What to Do if You Experience Burnout

The first step to reducing burnout is identifying the causes of your work stress and exhaustion.

After you identify the causes of your long-term stress, developing strategies to reduce those stressful events and improve your ability to recover and rejuvenate is essential.

It may include no longer accepting overtime, spending more time with supportive people, or making a career change.

Every situation is different, so the path to recovery must align with your goals and circumstances.

You can also consult a mental health expert for advice, support, and resources to help you cope better.

Most importantly, take your mental health seriously to minimize burnout because it can creep up without your awareness.

Helping others is rewarding, meaningful, and highly respectable.

However, your mental health must come first because you can’t help others if you can’t support yourself.

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