6/10 New Zealand nurses quit due to stress

A snippet in the NZ media this morning, http://bit.ly/tuyL6S illustrated the pressures faced by nurses in New Zealand, and no doubt in every other country in the world. The research found that 6 out of 10 nurses quit their profession due to workplace stress or the stress of being faced with ethical decisions that they couldn’t live with.

Losing 6 out of 10 nurses for stress related reasons doesn’t make any sense. These are nurses that would likely have remained in the sector. In particular any churn of young nurses entering the profession will have a profound impact as older nurses retire through generational change. The loss of knowledge and experience may have a critical impact upon future wellbeing of patients and efficient operation of hospitals.

Nurses are important. Hospital care would be a miserable experience without them. My experience is that they are the only people likely to give you a straight answer and fill the gap left by physicans with challenged communication skills. Nurses undertake a myriad of tasks that make any patient comfortable and they are underappreciated.

There is little evidence to suggest the situation in nursing will improve. Its a tough gig and it will get tougher. The days of 1-1 patient care are long gone, if they ever existed and nurses are expected to provide care for a greater number of patients during their shift, often with increasingly complex needs. As labour shortages continue to impact upon healthcare, nursing staff will be expected to do more with less.

There are a number of self-help strategies nurses can put into place to help get them through the day, including shifting their focus to the things they have control over, talking through issues with others in a positive manner, focusing on generating solutions rather than promoting problems, taking breaks, eating well, drinking water, avoiding coffee, taking a walk in fresh air and not smoking. None of these things need additional funding or even additional nurses. All of them will make you feel better and more able to face any dilemmas.

Hospital managers also have a role to play. Especially those nurse managers who have risen to the ranks of management. Nursing is not the same today as it was when you were on the floor. Be wary of falling into the trap of thinking that because you survived then everyone else should be able to also.

In every hospital there exist a number of organisational barriers that contribute to workplace stress. As the manager, it is your responsibility to make it easy for nurses to get their job done in the most stress free manner. Every minute you devote to identifying and removing barriers to effectivenss becomes your most valuable contribution to your staff. Start by stepping outside of your office and walking around the less desirable parts of the hospital. What do you see that contributes to nursing stress? What can be changed? Look at hospital/ward activities in a holistic manner to create a barrier free environment. At a personal development level, engage in coaching and mentoring to help develop effective practices for facilitating conversations, resolving conflicts and mentoring other people. Do these things well and you will become a powerful stress-busting manager, highly respected by your peers and staff.

While it is possible more staff would eliminate some, but not all ethical issues, and would certainly relieve some workplace pressure, there simply isnt enough people coming into the workforce to meet the demand, even if they wanted to be nurses. In addition the demand for healthcare services continues to increase. Increasing demand and reducing supply of nurses suggests a need to change how we meet the needs of patients. The way nursing roles and jobs are designed will need to change in the future. This will require creative thinking by Government, unions and hospital management teams. In the meantime, nurses and nurse managers need to use what they have at their disposal to minimise workplace stress.

Those are my thoughts for the day.
John Coxon


About John Coxon

Principal consultant for John Coxon & Associates, a management consultancy working with boards and management teams in healthcare, aged care and not for profit organisations to develop effective strategic planning processes and social enterprise business plans
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