Why are nurses likely to experience burnout, and can nurse burnout be prevented?
I was recently perusing social media when I saw a friend’s post about how hard it is to be a nurse and how thankful we should all be to nurses. I thought it was interesting that my friend felt that she needed to advocate for nurses so much, so I looked into it. Turns out she is right! Being a nurse is really hard. Healthcare workers, administrators, and recruiters understand the physical and emotional demands of nursing. Nurses have to stand on their feet all day, often pulling 12 hour shifts. They also often work with sick,,uncomfortable, or scared people who may need extra support, answers, patience – and who may not always treat them well. Research suggests that nurses are required to utilize a high amount of emotional labor (Diefendorff, Erickson, Grandey & Dahling, 2011) in order to make their patients feel cared for.
Emotional labor occurs when an individual “enhances, fakes, or suppresses emotions to modify their emotional expression” (Grandey, 2000). In other words, nurses pretend to be happy even when they are not. Other role stressors for nurses include role ambiguity, quantitative overload, and role conflict (Zellars, Perrewé, Hochwarter, 2000). Research suggests that both external behavior of nurses and role stressors can lead to burnout (Brotheridge & Grandey, 2002; Zellars, Perrewé, Hochwarter, 2000).
What is burnout? And why does it matter?
Burnout is made up of three components: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished personal accomplishment (Maslach, 1982). Although these dimensions have their own distinct relationships with organizational outcomes (Lee & Ashforth, 1990), many studies suggest that burnout as a whole is related to a host of negative organizational outcomes (Zellars, Perrewé, Hochwarter, 2000). For instance, burnout has been tied to lower organizational commitment (Leiter & Maslach, 1988) and the propensity to withdraw from clients and take longer breaks (Maslach & Jackson, 1985). This can have serious effects on any organization, but particularly in healthcare settings that are trying to ensure good patient care with low wait times.
Can organizations predict who is more likely to experience nurse burnout?
Although a healthcare setting has the capacity to create a lot of burnout, not all individuals report high levels of burnout. Research suggests that this is due to personality differences in individuals (Zellars, Perrewé, Hochwarter, 2000). Specifically, individuals high in neuroticism report higher levels of burnout; whereas individuals who score high in agreeableness, extroversion, and openness to experience reported experiencing lower symptoms of burnout (Zellars, Perrewé, Hochwarter, 2000). According to the Talent Board's 2016 Candidate Experience Research report, nearly 82% of successful companies increase their odds of selecting the right candidate with hiring assessments. These types of assessments can be extremely beneficial for the healthcare industry as well, helping to select individuals who are less likely to burn out. These assessments should be personality-based and include dimensions like openness to experience, extroversion, and agreeableness. There are few things more effective at evaluating personality fit than a well-designed, healthcare-specific assessment designed for selection.
Applying a selection assessment like this to your organization may appear to be a daunting task as a whole, however, considering the talent shortage, burnout, and turnover in the nursing field, they are extremely important.
Brotheridge, C. M., & Grandey, A. A. (2002). Emotional labor and burnout: Comparing two perspectives of “people work.” Journal of Vocational Behavior, 60(1), 17-39.
Diefendorff, J. M., Erickson, R. J., Grandey, A. A., & Dahling, J. J. (2011). Emotional display rules as work unit norms: a multilevel analysis of emotional labor among nurses. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16(2), 170.
Grandey, A. A. (2000). Emotional regulation in the workplace: A new way to conceptualize emotional labor. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5(1), 95.
Lee, R. T., & Ashforth, B. E. (1990). On the meaning of Maslach's three dimensions of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75(6), 743.
Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (1988). The impact of interpersonal environment on burnout and organizational commitment. Journal of organizational Behavior, 9(4), 297-308.
Maslach, C. (1982). Burnout: The Cost of Caring. Englewood Clifts, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1985). The role of sex and family variables in burnout. Sex Roles, 12(7-8), 837-851.
Zellars, K. L., Perrewé, P. L., & Hochwarter, W. A. (2000). Burnout in health care: The role of the five factors of personality. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30(8), 1570-1598.