Healthcare News & Insights

Why hospitals have to drop 12-hour shifts for nurses

In order to prevent burnout among nurses, hospital leaders need to rethink how they approach scheduling. 

tired-nurseThat may mean giving up 12-hour and longer nursing shifts.

This is according to new international research published in BMJ Open, which finds longer shifts have detrimental effects on nurses’ well-being, efficiency and morale.

Burning candle at both ends

Despite the fact many hospitals have implemented 12-hour shifts to compensate for staffing shortages or improve efficiency, researchers from medical universities across Europe have discovered these schedules lead to symptoms of extreme fatigue and burnout.

The survey polled more than 31,000 nurses from 12 European countries, including nations like England, Ireland, Finland, Spain and Switzerland, about their work environment, job satisfaction, care quality and safety.

As the study noted, many nurses view long shifts as a way to increase flexibility with a compressed work week, which allows them to balance work and personal commitments.

However, the researchers found about one in four respondents working 12-hour and longer shifts reported high emotional exhaustion. And nearly one in five said they felt a low sense of personal accomplishment at the end of shifts.

Similarly, about one in 10 also reported high depersonalization, the psychiatric term for feeling disassociated from your thoughts, body or identity.

The study results also confirm previous studies which link long shifts and burnout to an increased number of adverse patient outcomes.

But burnout doesn’t just impact nurses’ ability to provide effective care, it’s also a major contributor to staffing shortages.

About a quarter of the nurses working with these long schedules reported feeling dissatisfied with their jobs. About the same number said they were dissatisfied with a lack of shift flexibility.

As a result, about a third of respondents said they were planning on leaving their jobs.

Important of stress busting

Although care settings may vary from country to country, burnout, job satisfaction and staffing shortages are universal concerns in healthcare. And as the report shows, long hours and inflexible schedules are serious factors with these issues.

As a result, facilities should consider revamping scheduling to shorten shifts and provide more flexibility. Although some nurses may insist they prefer longer shifts, its important to point out the potential impact these schedules may have on their health and well-being.

It’s also increasingly important for leaders to take an active role in helping nurses manage their stress through staff management methods or various stress busters.

For example, encourage nurses to disconnect from work after their shifts by avoiding things like work email, and make sure nurses are taking advantage of their vacation time.

Leaders may also want to consider stress busters to help relieve mental and physical exhaustion. Some hospitals have  implemented wellness programs that teach mindfulness meditation or helpful yoga positions for workers constantly on their feet.

Other facilities use fun events to combat stress, such as the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, which works with a local shelter to bring in adoptable dogs and cats hospital workers can visit during their lunch breaks.

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