Healthcare News & Insights

Survey: Fatigue, burnout at high levels among healthcare pros

The results of a new survey of healthcare professionals indicate that it’s important for hospitals to address the issue of staff burnout and fatigue.

According to the Nurse Staffing Strategy survey, which was conducted by HealthLeaders Media and commissioned by Kronos Incorporated, fatigue is particularly evident among nurses.

But other staffers are feeling the effects of being overworked as well. Sixty-nine percent of the healthcare pros who responded to the survey indicated that feeling fatigued caused them to be concerned about their performance during work hours.

Having constantly tired staffers in charge of patient care may bring about dire consequences for a hospital. Just under 65% of survey participants admitted that they almost made a mistake at work because of fatigue.

Worse:  27% of respondents actually did make an error due to being overtired.

Root of the problem

What’s causing all this fatigue? Scheduling deficiencies are a big contributing factor. Most respondents to the survey indicated that the current staffing levels at their hospitals were inadequate (39%) or unsatisfactory (38%).

Also, excessive workloads are prevalent in most hospitals. A majority of respondents (57%) indicated they had personally witnessed an inequitably distributed workload in the last 12 months, and 54% said their own workload was overwhelming.

Lengthy shifts are often coupled with these huge workloads. In fact, 78% of survey participants said their healthcare organization makes regular use of 12-hour shifts.  And though most hospitals have clear policies in place to regulate shift length, few have policies limiting the amount of cumulative extended shifts staffers can work.

Fighting the effects of fatigue

A policy that limits the number of extended shifts a nurse or doctor could take on each month may have a drastic effect on the constant fatigue they experience, with 96% of healthcare pros surveyed saying they regularly feel tired at the start of their shift and 92% reporting fatigue upon completing the day’s work.

Automated scheduling may also ease some of hospitals’ scheduling woes. According to the survey, manual scheduling seems most prevalent, with 34% saying their organizations kept track of staff schedules using a whiteboard and paper.

It’s more difficult for hospitals to fill the need for extra staff on busier shifts using a manual scheduling system because gaps in scheduling can be overlooked. In many cases, no one realizes there’s a critical staff shortage until after the fact, with 63% of respondents agreeing that nurse vacancies affected scheduling more often than anticipated.

Using a scheduling system that automatically keeps track of how many workers are set to cover a shift can make it easier for hospitals to see just how many nurses and doctors are scheduled for duty.

This way, adjustments to add extra staff can be made early on, reducing the effects of burnout caused by understaffing.

Here are a few more ways hospitals can reduce the effect of burnout on staff.

  • Keep the lines of communication open. Listening to staffers can go a long way toward improving conditions that are prone to causing fatigue. Fostering an environment where staff members can freely discuss their concerns with their superiors is key.
  • Encourage staff members to take regular breaks to recharge. Over 56% of survey respondents said their hospital neglects policies regarding rest periods. Make break time a priority in your hospital.
  • Promote a culture of employee health in your hospital. Staff members who practice healthy habits will be more energized and can better handle the stress of a long shift. Provide healthy eating options on-site, and tell staff to take their own health as seriously as they do the health of their patients.

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