Nurses Love What They Do but Battle Fatigue, Survey Shows

Megan Brooks

May 09, 2017

The vast majority (93%) of registered nurses (RNs) in the United States are satisfied with their career choice, although fatigue is a pervasive problem, according to a national survey of employed RNs working in hospitals.

"This survey shows that it's time to care for the caregivers. It also confirms what we instinctively know – nurses are compassionate, hardworking professionals who love what they do," Susan Reese, director, healthcare practice group, Kronos Incorporated, said in a news release.

Among the more than 250 RNs who responded to the online survey, 98% said their job is both physically and mentally demanding, and 93% said they are mentally and/or physically tired at the end of a typical day.

Sleepy Nurses

More than 4 of 5 (85%) nurses said their work causes them to suffer from fatigue, which has consequences. For example, 56% of nurses overall and 70% of those who work the night shift admit that they have driven home from work drowsy; 12% overall and 23% of night-shift nurses have pulled their vehicle off the road to rest.

A substantial number of nurses (44%) worry that their patient care will suffer as a result of fatigue; 37% worry about making a mistake; and 11% said they have made a mistake at work because they were so tired. More than a quarter of nurses (28%) have called in sick to catch up on sleep.

The top causes of fatigue among RNs are excessive workloads (60%); not being able to take lunch and dinner breaks during a shift (42%); not being able to take any breaks during a shift (41%); and not being able to get enough sleep between shifts (25%). A quarter of the nurses said 12-hour shifts (as opposed to 8-hour shifts) also cause fatigue.

Although happy overall in their career, 63% said their work has caused job burnout, and 41% have considered changing hospitals in the past year because they have felt burned out.

Four of five nurses said they find it hard to balance mind, body, and spirit, and 90% of nurses said they have given thought to leaving the hospital they work in to find a different type of job with better work/life balance.

Forty-four percent of nurses said their managers don't know how fatigued they are, and 43% said they hide their sleepiness from their managers.

Gaining Control

Sixty percent of nurses said that if they had more say in their shift scheduling, they would have a better work/life balance, and 55% think having more control over their scheduling would help ease their fatigue.

Some hospitals are taking steps to help nurses combat fatigue, the survey shows, with 60% of RNs reporting that their hospital offers a wellness program for employees.

When asked what their hospitals can do to combat fatigue, more than half (55%) said offer better schedules; 47% said give more breaks; 41% said offer health and wellness programs; and 35% said manage overtime more effectively.

Despite the challenges of nursing, 93% said they are satisfied overall, and 77% said they are energized by their work.

"A workforce that is so inspired by their work is hard to find in other industries, and hospitals and health systems need to invest in nurturing and supporting their nurses," said Reese.

"A fatigued employee at risk of burnout is not an engaged employee. Combating fatigue can be achieved by giving nurses more control over their work schedules, ensuring they have regular breaks, along with offering adequate rest periods between shifts and access to health and wellness programs. These benefits will ultimately help nurses, patients, and hospitals and health systems," she added.

The "Employee Engagement in Nursing" survey was conducted by Regina Corso Consulting on behalf of Kronos Incorporated. The online survey was conducted between April 6 and April 13, 2017, among 257 employed RNs who work in a hospital setting. More than half of participating RNs are 55 years of age or older; 92% are women; and 64% have 20 or more years' experience in nursing.

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