Skipping meals and bathroom breaks: Are your nurses putting their health at stake?

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that nurses rise to the challenge during times of crisis. For months, we’ve heard heroic stories of nurses playing pivotal roles in the pandemic response and going the extra mile to care for hospitalized patients.

In the Year of the Nurse, we’re all witnessing just how vital nurses are to public health. We’re also learning about the sacrifices they make every day. While those sacrifices may be front and center right now, they are nothing new.

Nurses have always put others’ needs ahead of their own, but issues such as the nursing shortage are increasing the selflessness. Many nurses can’t escape patient-care duties at all during long shifts, and it’s impacting their mental, emotional and physical health. They skip meals – and even delay bathroom breaks – because they are so busy caring for patients.

So, it’s no surprise that the leading causes of nurse fatigue are: excessive workloads (60%); being unable to take lunch and dinner breaks during a shift (42%); and not being able to take any breaks during a shift (41%), according to the Workforce Institute. The fatigue is so pervasive, that nearly a third of nurses have called off sick just to get some rest, according to that same study.

A big chunk of our nursing population is, quite frankly, overworked.

Taking a toll on nurses’ physical and mental health

Aside from the obvious health problems of denying the body food, drink and trips to the restroom, working without any kind of relief from patient responsibility is terrible for mental and emotional health.

In fact, according to a recent study,15.6% of all nurses reported feelings of burnout and 41% felt unengaged, and as the data we noted earlier suggests, a lack of breaks contributes to that.

Everyone, even unflappable nurses, need a bit of stress relief during long shifts. Those who don’t get it are more likely to get sick, suffer burnout or leave their job for a better situation elsewhere.

Patient care is also at risk

Mistakes and safety issues increase, and patient satisfaction scores drop as a result of an overwhelmed, overworked nursing staff. While most nurses battle through it and continue to provide adequate care, some don’t.

It’s a basic truth that exhausted, stressed and burned out nurses cannot provide the same quality of care as ones who are rested, regardless their skill level or commitment to the job.

Make breaks part of your culture

Each of your nurses should have a 15-minute break for roughly every four hours on the job, according to industry standards.

So, what can you do to ensure your nursing staff is taking those much-needed breaks? Follow these tips:

Tell them to. You are the boss, and they will follow your lead. Remind them of your polices and explain why 10 to 15 minutes of downtime is critical to their job performance. Most important: Never make them feel guilty for needing a break.
Relieve them. As the nurse manager, be ready to step in as needed so that nurses can take breaks.
Create a renewal space. Cancer Treatment Centers of America® at Midwestern Regional Medical Center created a quiet space that offers aromatherapy, music therapy, a massage chair and other stress tamers. It’s been so successful that the administration approved the creation of several more spaces. Look for an area, such as your break room, that you can convert into a relaxing space.
Adopt better staffing processes. When you are understaffed, nurses can’t take breaks. Adopting a nurse scheduling solution, such as ABILITY SMARTFORCE Scheduler, helps to ensure you have enough staff scheduled and that you can quickly find replacements for unexpected and last-minute call offs.

To learn more, watch this video.

 

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