Why the 12-hour Shift Could Cause Nursing Burnout

In 2015, BMJ Open published a study examining the correlation between the 12-hour nursing shift and burnout. Its sample size consisted of around 31,627 registered nurses across 488 hospitals and 12 countries.

The results were somewhat predictable. Compared to healthcare professionals (HCPs) working 8 nursing shift hours or less, nurses who took 12-hour shifts were “more likely to experience burnout, depersonalization, and high job dissatisfaction.” Naturally, these correspondents were also more likely to express interest in leaving their jobs altogether.

An increase in working hours was found to have a correlation with other negative outcomes. More burnout was linked to a stark decrease in the quality of care and significantly higher risks of medical error. The economic damage due to “increased absenteeism and higher turnover” was also notable. Too many long nursing night shifts burn patients, facilities and HCPs alike, in the long run.

Concerns about mandatory overtime skyrocketed during the pandemic. Reflecting BMJ Open’s findings, increased work hours (among other factors) lead to burnout and increased turnover rates.

Eight years later and the results of this study are hauntingly relevant. 12-hour shifts for nurses are not uncommon, in the current environment. In extreme cases, some HCPs may have a schedule of 12-hour shifts, 7 days a week.

Hospitals will not change their operations overnight. However, if they want to avoid further short-staffing problems in the future, then reevaluating the 12-hour nursing shift will be an essential step forward.

A packed nursing shift report sheet may look nice at the moment, but the consequences of such overwork could prove dire in the long run. All the available evidence points to a similar conclusion: The 12-hour nursing shift causes burnout.