Burnout has become an epidemic in healthcare facilities. From nurses, to nurse aides, to doctors, no one has been spared from its effects. It feeds into a self-perpetuating cycle of turnover, and short staffing, which only feeds into more burnout. Unfortunately, this is not a storm that can simply be weathered. If left unchecked, burnout could cripple the industry for years to come. How exactly does burnout affect HCPs, in particular? Why are its effects so crippling to both the worker and the facility? This article will look into what causes burnout, what its most prominent effects are, and why facilities should feel obligated to stop it.
What Is Burnout?
Before proceeding any further, it is important to understand what burnout entails, exactly. The World Health Organization defines burnout as a byproduct of “unsuccessfully managed workplace stress.” This syndrome leaves patients feeling constantly exhausted, mentally distant from the job, and less productive from work as a result. Attributing this to laziness or a “lack of motivation” would be misplaced. In reality, burned-out workers have been so physically and mentally drained that they are literally unable to provide their full, best efforts to their workplace.
What Causes Burnout Among Hcps?
Burnout is a possibility in any workplace and industry. That being said, HCPs are uniquely susceptible to suffering burnout, even when compared to other workers in different sectors. This is because of a number of factors and realities that are somewhat unique to the business.
It cannot be forgotten that healthcare is an extremely stressful line of work, in and of itself. Patients entrust their lives to their patients, and that burden weighs deep. Whether you are a nurse aide or a physician, you are expected to follow procedures, think critically, and pay extreme attention to detail, within time constraints. HCPs also commonly shuffle between multiple patients in a single shift and must learn how to multitask and think fast as a result. This is especially the case with the emergency department or intensive care unit, who frequently have to work fast to save the lives of their patients. Healthcare demands a lot out of its workers, and that stress can naturally lead to burnout.
Not helping things is the long shifts that HCPs have to take. It is commonplace for nurses to work up to 12 hours a shift. These long hours can weigh on someone, as they provide intensive skilled labor without many breaks. HCPs also spend the majority of their time standing. This may not seem like a big deal, but being on your feet for 12 hours (without much interruption) can cause serious damage to your lower body. Healthcare workers are also commonly tasked with lifting heavy medical equipment, and patients from their beds to their wheelchairs. The demands of the long shift and the physical strain it puts on an HCP all add up and contribute to the ongoing burnout epidemic.
Finally, HCPs are still contending with the consequences of the pandemic. At COVID’s peak, facilities were vastly understaffed to handle the influx of patients afflicted with the Coronavirus, on top of the patients who were already admitted for different reasons. Because of these skewed staffing ratios, HCPs were stretched thin and expected to take on more work than was reasonably expected.
This issue exacerbated the aforementioned problems, as the work-related stress seemingly ramped up and the shifts only seemed to grow longer. Although the pandemic was officially declared to be over, its consequences can be felt to this day. It was reported that more than 100,000 nurses left the industry, as a direct result of the pandemic. Nursing shortages continue to afflict the nation as a result, which only increases the stress for the HCPs who have chosen to remain in the industry.
How Does Burnout Affect Hcps?
The burnout epidemic cannot be ignored. Facilities must feel a responsibility to protect their HCPs from potential burnout. Its effects are crippling and can hamper a healthcare professional for the rest of their lives. They will be unable to provide their best efforts to the facility. At worst, once promising nurses may leave the industry altogether, as a direct result. Burnout has many symptoms and side effects, but these are among its most common and dramatic byproducts.
Stress and Depression
Burnout can sap you of all your positivity and mental energy. HCPs suffering from burnout are more prone to stress, depression, and anger. They are also sensitive to anxiety, irritability, and other mood swings. This emotional volatility can severely damage your personal relationships at work and with your loved ones. Burned-out HCPs also do not have the energy to communicate with fellow HCPs or with their friends and family.
Left unchecked, it can push HCPs to resort to alcohol or drug abuse, in order to feel something positive or calm down. Though fine in moderation, alcohol abuse increases the possibility of developing liver diseases, digestive problems, heart conditions and a host of other physical problems. When severely inebriated, HCPs can become emotionally unstable, and unable to control their own actions or focus. If you show up to work drunk or inebriated, you will be incapable of working and may be subject to serious legal charges.
Burnout causes both massive mental and physical fatigue. HCPs start their shifts emotionally detached, and physically exhausted before a single task is carried out. Whether it is handling a sensitive surgical procedure or following instructions from your physician, precision in healthcare is absolutely essential. When you are too exhausted to focus, let alone work, the services you provide will suffer as a result.
Worse Patient Outcomes
Studies show a direct correlation between burnout and worse healthcare quality. More burnout directly results in more errors and worse care results in higher mortality rates, and more costly medical mistakes. Naturally, patient satisfaction will dramatically decrease, as they grow frustrated with the lower quality and standard across the board. Over a long enough period of time, this will destroy the goodwill and reputation of a facility and its HCPs. Patients do not want to be admitted into a facility that would put their lives at risk. Without addressing the burnout problem, hospitals can end up putting themselves out of business or in serious legal trouble.
Increased Risk of Illness
Victims of burnout can also develop crippling chronic illnesses and physical problems. Because of the increased stress and potential drug abuse, they can develop hypertension, diabetes, and a host of respiratory problems. If left unchecked, this can severely cripple your day-to-day routines and work schedule.
For many HCPs, the mounting tension and fatigue eventually prove to be too much. Burnout has pushed many professionals to leave their jobs to find less stressful opportunities. Sometimes this is another healthcare role, while other times they have decided to leave the industry altogether. Research has shown proven links between burnout and increased rates of turnover, in healthcare facilities. This can prove to have a snowball effect since the turnover leaves facilities understaffed and handling skewed patient-to-staff ratios. This increases the work-related stress and anxiety among the remaining HCPs, which leads to burnout, which worsens the turnover issue.