A report by the IPPR think tank has revealed that 330,000 healthcare workers - including 100,000 nurses and 8,000 midwives - were "more likely" to leave the NHS in England after a year of additional pressure from the pandemic.
The report also found that 49% had worked an understaffed shift weekly, with 49% stating they could not provide the level of patient care they would like to.
Another survey conducted by NHS Providers, which gained the views of 199 executive directors, including directors of nursing, from 140 different NHS trusts, revealed a staggering 99% were either extremely or moderately concerned about the levels of staff burnout there were seeing during the pandemic.
The figures are stark, and the implications of such widespread burnout in nursing are deeply concerning, especially when we consider the profession was already experiencing a shortage pre-pandemic. While employers can’t magically produce additional resources to ease the burden, particularly in the NHS where budgets are tight, some practical steps can be taken to help nurses avoid burnout. Here are our (realistic) tips for employers:
Recognise and address it
From nursing leaders to the nurses themselves, all staff play a vital role in recognising and addressing burnout in their colleagues. The ideal scenario would see leaders fully trained in recognising the signs that employees are becoming stressed, withdrawn and disengaged. However, we’re still dealing with a pandemic, so rolling out a training programme is likely a luxury that many can’t afford. Instead, employers can encourage leaders and staff to regularly ‘check in’ with one another and ask how they’re feeling and if there’s anything they need. Sometimes people just want their feelings to be acknowledged, particularly by their managers and colleagues. Obviously, this doesn’t solve the problem, but it opens up a dialogue and reinforces that no one has to suffer in silence.
Include nurses in decision-making
Acknowledgement is one thing; appreciation is another. From conversations we’ve had with nurses over the years, a common contributor to burnout is feeling underappreciated. That's why leaders need to provide nurses with the opportunity to participate in any decision-making that directly affects their work.
A 2017 study published in the journal Inquiry revealed that nurses are more likely to experience burnout if they feel a lack of autonomy and control over their practice. What better way to indicate appreciation and respect for your nurses than to consult them on matters of the workplace and gain their feedback? Conduct regular meetings regarding any changes to policies and processes and communicate outcomes from leadership meetings. Dialogue should flow two ways, with any input from nurses taken into account and reported back on. If this isn’t possible, go old-school and place an anonymous suggestion box in a break room, ensuring to publish the responses to each publicly. In short, show your vital workforce that their voices are heard and that they matter.
Don’t abandon progression
According to a 2018 Gallup survey, a common reason for burnout is a lack of role clarity. Regular one-to-ones and career development plans are usually the first things placed on the backburner in busy and understaffed healthcare environments. Career aspirations aside, many nurses are missing out on continuing professional development (CPD) time - critical for revalidation - due to staffing pressures. The ongoing effects of the pandemic mean nurses see their ambitions pushed to one side while hospitals and communities cope with the additional workload. While understandable, it’s not good enough. Time must be carved out to allow nurses to grow, develop and seek additional support where they need it.
Re-prioritise your processes
Properly tackling burnout in your nursing workforce requires additional time in the day that you may not have. Hiring managers can free up hours by outsourcing time-intensive tasks to external partners. A specialist healthcare recruiter, for example, can handle all job advertising, candidate shortlisting, arranging interviews, providing feedback and conducting any relevant background checks - leaving you to invest more time in managing and supporting your team of nurses.