What Causes Nurse Burnout?

July 18, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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By its very nature, nursing is a profession that requires someone to give a lot of themselves. For countless patients, nurses are the primary caregivers who go above and beyond to ensure their health, safety, and well-being. This also means that nurses spend large amounts of time putting other people’s needs ahead of their own.

This results in nurse burnout which is a very real problem — contributing to a wide range of difficulties, from mental health issues to nursing labor shortages. It is our hope at Care Options for Kids to help anyone in the nursing profession understand and prevent nurse burnout from happening to them.

What is nurse burnout?

For any line of work or activity, burnout refers to the negative effects caused by prolonged stress, including emotional, physical, and mental factors. The results of burnout can be fatigue, exhaustion, lack of concentration, and an elevated risk for mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Nurses are particularly prone to burnout due to the conditions of the job. On a given day nurses find themselves helping people who are often dealing with extremely difficult circumstances. This is especially true for nurses who work in stressful environments such as emergency rooms, intensive care units, and hospice care, but it can also apply to hospitals, long-term care facilities, and mental health facilities.

Additionally, the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have put even more pressure on already stressed out nurses. This can all add up to nurse burnout, leading to decreased job performance, high turnover rates, and even potential safety issues.

The Top 5 Causes of Nurse Burnout

Many different factors contribute to nurse burnout, but here are the most common ones that many nurses in stressful environments are reporting:

1. Long Hours

Nurses in hospitals, ERs, ICUs, and other facilities are often scheduled for 12 hours at a time or longer. A health crisis and an ongoing labor shortage have compounded this problem, leading to longer shifts for nurses and a vicious cycle that makes being a nurse even harder. Week after week and month of long days and overtime can take a toll on work-life balance, leading to increased exhaustion and burnout.

2. High-Pressure Environments

The long hours aren’t easy hours for many nurses either. Nurses are typically on their feet for the entirety of their long shifts and they have to perform complex, difficult work, including the physical labor of lifting patients and moving medical equipment. In many cases, nurses also have limited breaks during a shift to relax and decompress.

3. Abnormal Sleep Patterns and Lack of Sleep

Whether due to job stress or schedules that can include overnight shifts, irregular sleep, insomnia, and lack of sleep is another major contributor to burnout. Like so many situations with nurse burnout, lack of sleep is another example of a downward spiral where a difficult work environment makes it hard to sleep, which in turn leads to diminished job performance and increased fatigue.

4. Patient-Related Emotional Stress

Depending on the situation, nurses can manage five, 10, or even more patients in a day. In ERs and ICUs, these can be patients who are dealing with very serious and even life-threatening conditions that are emotionally difficult to encounter. Even nurses who are good at compartmentalizing their emotions during patient interactions can only process so much before it adds to a feeling of numbness or burnout.

5. Minimal Support

From lack of support staff to a lack of equipment and resources, including personal protective equipment, having to deal with a lack of support on top of all the other things nurses deal with can be the last straw for many. Yet another issue is a rising epidemic of violence against nurses by upset or disgruntled patients. If there isn’t a proper support network, including resources, teamwork, and nurse and patient safety, it can be extremely difficult to stay in that type of environment if you are a nurse.

Finding a job environment and workplace culture that is the right fit and supports your needs is one of the most powerful ways to prevent nurse burnout. As the home health industry grows, many nurses are finding the flexibility, focused one-on-one patient interactions, and comfortable home environment to be an effective solution to burnout. Many nurses who come into the specialty of home health nursing find it a deeply satisfying change of pace that allows them to better focus on a healthy work-life balance.

Join The Care Options For Kids Team!

Are you ready for meaningful work that comes with benefits and not burnout? Join the compassionate care team that helps children and families live their best lives. Our clinicians provide best-in-class pediatric nursing, therapy, and school-based services. We bring individualized care to children where they live, work, and play. We have opportunities in homes, schools, and clinics across the country.

Apply at Care Options for Kids now. We make it easy to start so that you can make a difference as soon as possible.