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Nurse Well-Being: An Imperative

Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system yet the evidence informs us that we are overloading many of them with unsustainable workloads. In a recent IMedcare poll, 72% of nurses felt that workloads were the biggest obstacle to their well-being. Latest estimates reveal that 41% of Australian nurses scored above the threshold for stress [1], placing many nurses at high risk for burnout. This has led to a mass exodus from the profession and hospitals nationally are finding it difficult to both recruit and retain nurses. When organisations make nurse well-being an imperative, it has the potential to address both the individual impact on nurse mental health and on the organisational necessity to support and retain their most valuable asset.

The nursing professional is riddled with stressful tasks, circumstances and psychosocial interactions. According to the job demands-resource (JD-R) model, these would be considered hindering demands [2] and have the potential to lead to strain and burnout. The JD-R theory was originally developed for the purpose of understanding burnout; it recommends that in order to meet the inevitable stressors faced in the workplace, it is essential that the workplace and roles within also offer resources.

What Can Nurses Do?

The first step a nurse can take to improve his or her well-being is to define what well-being means to them. Well-being can be subjective and prior to developing resources, it's important to understand the what, the why and the how behind it. Second, nurses can cultivate self-awareness surrounding stress, their perception of stress and how their role contributes to stress. Self-awareness is also crucial in terms of regular self-care checks, mindful moments throughout the day and finding opportunities to label negative emotions. Lastly, nurses can make their well-being a priority and get intentional about participating in the activities that will contribute to their well-being. It's too easy for nurses to dismiss and neglect their own needs, making self-care and recovery activities a non-negotiable will be the key to improving their overall well-being in the long-run.

What Can Managers Do?

Managerial behaviours have been correlated with stress and burnout. Managerial support and collaborative management have been shown to reduce stress [3]. Similarly, burnout and work stress were reduced when administrators created work environments that provided staff with access to opportunity, information, resources, and support—the features of empowerment [3]. Managers and team leaders need support through training and they must make the well-being of their teams a priority. This can be achieved through initiating stress management interventions such as psycho-education, cognitive behavioural therapy techniques and relaxation programs. Collectively develop a well-being policy and recruit team members to become well-being champions.

What Are Some of the Obstacles to Nurse Well-Being?

Some of the primary obstacles to well-being in the nursing profession include:

  1. Job dissatisfaction

  2. Physical and emotional distress

  3. Sleep disturbances

  4. Lack of employee voice

  5. Poor management

  6. Work-home conflict

Knowing what your obstacles are will help you navigate through them when they arise. You'll be able to create alternate pathways to overcome these obstacles and take values-based actions when needed.

Kirsten works with nurses, doctors, teams and organisations in developing positive organisational practices and change initiatives to cultivate and strengthen well-being. Contact her today to take the first step in making well-being a priority for you and your organisation.

[1] Maharaj, S., Lees, T., & Lal, S. (2019). Prevalence and risk factors of depression, anxiety, and stress in a cohort of Australian nurses. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(1), 61.

[2] Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., Nachreiner, F., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2001). The job demands-resources model of burnout. Journal of Applied psychology, 86(3), 499.

[3] Jennings, B.M. Work Stress and Burnout among Nurses: Role of the Work Environment and Working Conditions. In Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence Based Handbook for Nurses; Hughes, R.G., Ed.; Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Rockville, MD, USA, 2008; Volume 2, pp. 137–158.

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