84% of nurses rated themselves as feeling ‘a lot’ or ‘a little’ more stressed or anxious than before the pandemic began, according to a survey by Nursing Times.
The same survey also found that 62% of the 1,200 nurses surveyed felt their mental health was ‘worse’ or ‘much worse’.
For many companies, the mental health of nurses is taking priority like never before in the wake of the pandemic – for good reason.
As other areas of work move towards a sense of normalcy, many nurses are wondering how the profession will recover from such intense stress and increased workload.
How can companies support the mental health of their nurses?
The role of organisations on nurses’ mental health
Managing the wellbeing of nurses and preventing poor mental health from occurring at source is the responsibility of an organisation – it comes down to company culture.
If the culture of a company is compassionate and recognises the potential risks to a nurse’s wellbeing, then the environment is far more encouraging.
Alternatively, if a culture actively penalises or stigmatises those who seek help, it will likely lead to poor mental health across the organisation.
Advice from SOM for organisations points towards the importance of being supportive by:
Considering the wellbeing of staff when decisions are made around targets and deadlines
Giving opportunities for staff to have input into change initiatives and decision-making
Being aware of ‘change fatigue’ and how it can manifest
Offering support that fits the needs of nurses (e.g., reflective supervision, mentoring, using technology to provide positive dynamic feedback)
Offering flexible working options to improve work-life balance and enable staff to participate in wellbeing interventions and access support systems
Acknowledging sickness presenteeism and identifying the causes of it
What can managers do to address nurse mental health?
When looking at how a company can address the mental health of nurses, managers are absolutely integral to the approach.
Unlike the most senior members of staff in a company, managers are well-placed to engage with, and understand, the challenges facing nurses.
Additionally, a manager has a direct influence on the workload, tasks and shifts of nurses, which have a strong impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
The best approach a manager can take to begin tackling the mental health challenges that nurses are facing is to adopt a flexible approach towards the allocation of work and shifts, which can be aided by involving staff in decision making.
By involving nurses in the decision-making process, managers open up the opportunity to work more closely with them to understand and implement changes that can improve the working environment through direct feedback.
Companies should note that managers are also under immense pressure, however, and many are trying their best under very stressful circumstances when they too could benefit from further assistance with their mental health and wellbeing.
With this in mind, it is important that companies give managers the time, space, and resources to fulfil their role to its full potential and manage their own wellbeing in the meantime.
The impact on work-life balance
Addressing the mental health and wellbeing of nurses requires an understanding of the factors contributing to poor, or positive, mental health.
One of the largest factors in this regard is work-life balance.
For nurses, there are multiple barriers impacting their work-life balance that can be detrimental to their mental health.
For example, time-based conflict is a common issue in which an excess of time spent working reduces the amount of time available to relax and re-energise mental and physical resources.
Another common issue is the tendency for nurses to carry over stress from their work into their personal life, which can mean that instead of unwinding, they are focusing on work-related problems even when they are at home.
Many nurses are also facing the additional strain of personal responsibilities, such as looking after children or elderly relatives at home.
Addressing the underlying issues in the workplace will have a positive impact on the work-life balance of nurses.
It might seem like a colossal task, yet there are many ways to approach the mental health of nurses that, with collective action, can be easily implemented to the benefit of the entire company.
Though often overlooked, one of the most effective places to start is by ensuring all nursing staff take their full entitlement to breaks, access to food and drink, and are signposted to all mental health resources/points of contact if needed.
Having a mental health strategy in place also shows a clear commitment to improving the mental health of nursing staff, but in order to prove effective, this needs to include multi-level interventions to cover all aspects, from prevention to rehabilitation.
Multi-level interventions rely heavily on managers, which is why giving managers the time and resources to support their staff is integral to the success of mental health interventions, and also makes sure that managers are not putting their own mental health at risk in the pursuit of improving their staff’s.
Many companies will already know the factors that are causing poor mental health – high workload and demands, lack of resources available, inadequate leadership – which means the important thing now is not just acknowledgement, but action.
Maintaining optimum staffing levels is essential in minimising the impact of high workloads and extra workloads
Support for newly qualified nurses is essential in preventing poor mental health, which can be done by ‘buddying up’ systems with more experienced staff, or signposting to mental health resources
Mental health policies should be clearly outlined and put into practice
Self-referrals to mental health services or occupational health may increase uptake, rather than expecting nurses to go through managers to be referred
Flexible working options should be considered towards improving work-life balance
Having had such a tumultuous year, nurses are in greater need of mental health support from their organisations than ever before.
Implementing mental health strategies and clearly outlining existing mental health policies are vital steps that organisations can take towards putting their commitment into action.
Greater emphasis on allocating resources and time to managers can make a huge difference in the on-hand support that nurses receive, and also makes space for managers to focus on their own wellbeing.
Multi-level interventions will ensure that every level of your company has access to the mental health support they need, when they need it.