Stress is leading cause of work-related sick leave among nurses

Findings from a study of more than 4,000 nurses across nine counties reveals key work stresses and their effects on nurses' health.

A snapshot of nurses’ health in nine countries has revealed stress over inadequate staffing, unwanted overtime, a lack of basic safety equipment and aggression from patients and colleagues.

Findings from a study of more than 4,000 nurses in Canada, the United States, Denmark, Zambia, Uganda, Swaziland, South Korea, India and Malaysia were presented at the International Council of Nurses Conference in Seoul, South Korea.

The study, from the Grow Your Wellness initiative run by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, found stress was the leading cause of work-related sick leave, ahead of workplace injury and illness.

Speaking at the ICN conference in Seoul, chief executive officer David Benton said: ‘This study is a valuable resource, but not a definitive position.

‘The research shines light on the negative consequences of workplace stress on nurses’ health as well as on those they serve. It clearly demonstrates an urgent need for stronger policies which prioritise workplace health for nurses and the development of strategies to strengthen nurses’ personal health, in turn sustaining health systems globally.’

The study reveals that in Denmark, South Korea, Canada and the US more than half had experienced verbal aggression and one quarter experienced physical violence from patients or patients’ families. Bullying by managers or colleagues was experienced by one quarter of nurses in every country except Swaziland. Highest rates for stress sickness were found in Denmark, India and Malaysia.

Time constraints, lack of adequate staff, unwanted overtime and a lack of safety equipment, particularly for injections, were also issues.

Nurses also overestimated their own physical health. Although alcohol and smoking scores were low, consumption of sugary drinks was relatively high, physical activity low, Body Mass Index and cholesterol levels high, and eating fresh fruit and vegetables low.

Swaziland was reported to buck the trend of many countries with more positive responses, but Denmark broke its stereotype by reporting many problems. Danish Nurses’ Organisation president Grete Christiansen said nurses may have been influenced in their responses by strong financial controls in the country over the past decade.

Read more on the Grow Your Wellness website