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The perils of nursing stress

Good nurse leaders should help build a resilient workforce 
Stress and anxiety in the job

The concepts of stress, fatigue and burnout are not new, but long-term consequences for patient safety have yet to be fully explored, says Suzanne Waddill-Goad

In 2015, the American Holistic Nursing Association cited more than a dozen conditions contributing to nurses stress. Most are linked to workplace conditions: staffing, schedules, shift length, noise, workload, supervision, resource allocation, training and culture.

Three out of four nurses in a 2011 survey by the American Nurses Association said staff shortages were a contributing factor to stress and feeling overworked.

As the largest single group involved in the delivery of most healthcare services, nurses and their organisational leaders must begin to care about the costs of stress relative to health and well-being.

The positive of providing such support includes reduced nurse turnover, enhanced performance and efficiency, better overall service and improved client experiences.

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The concepts of stress, fatigue and burnout are not new, but long-term consequences for patient safety have yet to be fully explored, says Suzanne Waddill-Goad

Stress and anxiety in the job
Picture: Getty Images

In 2015, the American Holistic Nursing Association cited more than a dozen conditions contributing to nurses’ stress. Most are linked to workplace conditions: staffing, schedules, shift length, noise, workload, supervision, resource allocation, training and culture.

Three out of four nurses in a 2011 survey by the American Nurses Association said staff shortages were a contributing factor to stress and feeling overworked.   

As the largest single group involved in the delivery of most healthcare services, nurses and their organisational leaders must begin to care about the costs of stress relative to health and well-being.

The positive of providing such support includes reduced nurse turnover, enhanced performance and efficiency, better overall service and improved client experiences.

The negative is the possibility of furthering negative sequelae in an already stress-laden, challenging environment.

Factors of workforce stress

Nurses are at risk of burnout due to their seemingly limitless caring nature. Factor in the pace of change, an ageing workforce and the implications of healthcare reform and you have an enormously unpredictable work environment.

Stressed workers typically experience less job satisfaction, suffer more health concerns, are more apt to make mistakes, are unable to sleep or rest effectively, are absent from work more often and experience symptoms related to psychological distress (Waddill-Goad 2013).

Hunsaker et al (2015) cite support from nursing leadership as one of the most influential drivers. This presents a unique opportunity for nurse leaders to place well-being as a priority and truly put the value of altruism into action.

Nurse leaders and nurses must be willing to devote time and resources to building a more resilient workforce.

Different thought process

A healthy mindset requires dedication and practice. Constructing a strong nursing approach to improve health, well-being and wellness requires a change in thinking to encompass positive mental, physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of work. It also must align with passion (mission), purpose (vision) and relationships (values). 

Changing the way we think about stress and harnessing it to improve performance could be the holy grail.

Leadership matters. Nurse leaders must help themselves and others combat the elusive effects of stress before it progresses to fatigue or burnout. 

Can you learn well-being? Davidson (2015), a neuroscientist who has studied patterns of emotion and thought, believes so. What if contemporary improvement plans related to health, well-being and wellness were as important as other organisational metrics?

Could training to reduce or eliminate sources of conflict, improve decision making, inclusive initiatives for communication, standardising systems – enhancing efficiency and reliability for safety – and controlling the pace of change, make a positive difference?

Good leaders display the skill of intentionality. It is needed to build a more resilient nursing workforce. 

References

  • American Holistic Nurses Association (2015) Holistic stress management for nurses.
  • American Nurses Association (2011) 2011 ANA Health and safety survey: Hazards of the RN work environment. 
  • Davidson R (2015) Why well-being is a skill that can be learned. The World Post.
  • Hunsaker S et al (2015) Factors that influence the development of compassion fatigue, burnout and compassion satisfaction in emergency department nurses. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 47(2), 186-194.
  • Waddill-Goad S (2013) The development of a leadership fatigue questionnaire. American Sentinel University, Aurora, Colorado, US.

About the author

Suzi Waddill-Goad

Suzanne Waddill-Goad is president of Suzanne M Waddill-Goad & Co, Indianapolis, US

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