Nurse Burnout: What Is It And Why You Should Care

Nurses are caring professionals and are constantly battling a fast-paced and stressful work environment. And with the world still fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses worldwide are at the frontlines, responding to difficult and stressful situations for more than a year now without rest.

Nurses are now even more at risk of burnouts that can impact their performance in providing care. This article explores everything you need to know about nurse burnout.

Understanding Nurse Burnout And Its Symptoms

Burnout is being exhausted—physically, emotionally, and mentally. While stress is being over-engaged, burnout is defined by being disengaged. Nurse burnouts can lead to detachment and dulled emotions. It leaves a sense of hopelessness and undermines motivation. For a burned-out nurse, every day is a bad day.

There are a variety and symptoms of nurse burnout. The most common burnout signs include the following:

  • Constant fatigue
  • Lack of enthusiasm regarding work
  • Overwhelming anxiety and depression
  • Feeling under-appreciated or overworked
  • Lack of motivation
  • Always procrastinating
  • Detached or withdrawn
  • Frequent sickness and illness
  • Skipping work

Why Nurse Burnout Happens

There are a variety of causes of nurse burnout. Here are some of the most common reasons:

  1. Long Working Hours

The demand for nurse care has increased significantly due to the aging baby boomer generation as well as the increased prevalence of chronic diseases, not to mention the current COVID-19 pandemic plaguing the entire world.

Unfortunately, most hospitals haven’t been able to keep up with this growing demand for nurses. Studies have shown that working a 12-hour shift is already harmful to nurses. But because there’s not enough nursing staff in most hospitals, nurses are forced to work even longer hours, increasing the likelihood of burnout.

  1. Busy, High-Stress Environment

Nurses are always exposed to high levels of stress, with some nursing specialties even more stressful. For instance, those working in the intensive care unit or emergency department can mean dealing with traumatic injuries, high mortality rates, and ethical dilemmas. Such circumstances can bring high stress levels and increased burnout.

In addition, the extensive workload can easily overwhelm an already tired nurse. Short-staffed hospital settings mean busier days and more workload for nurses. This fast-paced workload can cause nurses to feel stressed and overwhelmed, leading to burnout over time.

  1. Sleep Deprivation

Since they work long hours, nurses are often sleep deprived. In fact, a study reported that nurses couldn’t get enough sleep between their work shifts, sleeping for only 7 hours or less. This chronic lack of sleep is one of the most substantial causes of nurse burnout.

  1. Emotional Strain

A nurse’s job is to care for their patients. However, sickness and death are also a part of this job, which takes a toll on them. Nurses working in end-of-life or critical care can experience emotional strain, which can be overwhelming at times. Taking care of sick or dying patients every single day can eventually add up and cause emotional meltdowns, compassion fatigue, and increased burnout rates.

  1. Management Or Team Problems

Burnout is more prevalent in a workplace that lacks collaboration, support, and teamwork. When there’s poor communication, conflict, bullying, work-related threats, or abuse in the workplace, it fosters an unpleasant work environment and contributes to nurse burnout.

The Impact of Nurse Burnout

Nurse burnout can be quite dangerous for the nurses themselves, their patients, and the hospital they work for. Here are ways nurse burnout can impact everything and everyone around them:

  1. Low-Quality Care

This is perhaps the most dangerous impact of nurse burnout. Stressed-out and exhausted nurses are more likely to make mistakes and make poor decisions, resulting in patient discomfort, infections, and, in some extreme cases, death.

In addition, a stressed nurse can also be insensitive, lacking in empathy or compassion, cynical, or even rude to patients. They won’t be able to offer as much guidance or being as caring or helpful as they’ve been in the past. This creates poor relationships with patients and influences patient’s experience in the medical facility.

  1. Nursing Shortage and Turnover

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing revealed several factors contributing to the shortage in nursing staff. These include high retirement numbers, insufficient nursing school faculty and enrollment, the aging population, and the high number of nurses leaving this profession.

In fact, one in five nurses leaves their first job within the first year, while one in three nurses leaves within the second year due to various reasons from feeling overworked to poor management.

Unfortunately, there’s a correlation between the increased turnover and nurse burnout. An increase in turnover can increase workloads and stress for other nurses, leading to burnout and lowering the quality of care provided to patients.

  1. Costly and Damaging To Organizations

Employee turnover can be extremely costly for organizations. Healthcare institutions spend a lot of money every year in recruiting, training, and retaining their employees. And as more healthcare employees experience burnout and distress, costs only continue to rise.

Also, as mentioned before, burned-out nurses mean lower quality of patient care. The mistakes made by burned-out nurses can have a long-lasting impact on the hospital’s reputation and may even end up in lawsuits, which can be costly.

  1. Creating a Toxic Workplace

Nurse burnout can have a detrimental effect on other staff and the entire workforce in general. Since burnout negatively influences personal characteristics and habits, it can harm relationships with co-workers and team members. Consequently, it can result in strained workplace relationships and create an uncomfortable and toxic working environment.

  1. Affects Nurse Health

Lastly, nurse burnout can be a substantial concern for the nurses who experience it themselves. A stressed or burned-out nurse is at risk for developing anxiety, depression, and other psychological health conditions.

Physical and mental exhaustion, as well as sleep deprivation, can also impact the nurse’s overall well-being. It may put them at risk of a variety of physical illnesses, including heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, weakened immune system, and more.


People get stressed out sometimes. However, with what’s happening in the world right now, nurses and other healthcare professionals are even more prone to stress over a longer period of time and experience burnout.

While nursing burnout really does happen, it doesn’t have to define your nursing career. By understanding burnout’s symptoms, causes, and implications and relieving it with self-care and support initiative, nurses can keep on caring for their patients to the best of their ability.