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Choice of Shift Length Could Reduce Burnout

A new study by the University of Southampton has found that when nurses are able to have some control over their rotas, they are less likely to succumb to burnout.

While it is well known that working long shifts can lead to exhaustion, this new study, which surveyed over 800 nurses, revealed that a lack of choice over shifts was contributing significantly to nurses feeling rundown.

The study aimed to “examine the association between shift work characteristics and burnout and exhaustion, and whether choice over shift length influences burnout and exhaustion.”

The study explained that burnout is caused by “prolonged exposure to physical and psychological occupational hazards, specifically poor work environments” and is characterized by “severe exhaustion, cynicism, and impaired cognitive and emotional functioning.” It can have significant impacts on both staff and employers, with sufferers more likely to be absent from work due to sickness, with many intending to leave their positions. It also poses a risk to patients, as it is
associated with medical errors, which impacts patient outcomes.

Utilising a cross-sectional online survey of nursing staff in the UK and Ireland, excluding student nurses and anyone not undertaking clinical care. They received 873 valid responses. Findings included the following results:

  • The majority worked shifts of 12 hr or more.
  • Almost one third worked over 48 hrs a week.
  • Most respondents working 12hr shifts reported having no choice, compared to those working shorter shifts.
  • Many nurses working longer shifts reported lower, or inadequate staffing levels.
  • Over 50% were classified as experiencing burnout.
  • The majority experienced “high exhaustion”.
  • Links between lack of choice over shift duration and burnout.

The study found that: “Those working 12-h shifts were more likely to perceive their staffing levels to be inadequate; nurses working long shifts are exposed to worse working conditions altogether, compared to their counterparts working shorter shifts.”

Many studies have previously highlighted the link between long shifts and burnout, and theories suggest that choice over shift length could lead to reduced levels of burnout and exhaustion.

Dr Chiara Dall’Ora concluded: “Our finding that staff who had a complete choice over shift patterns were less likely to experience burnout and exhaustion should be considered carefully. Complete choice over work hours may have little impact if other factors contributing to burnout and exhaustion persist.

“Also, complete choice of work hours might be impractical in settings providing 24/7 care. Innovative solutions that balance nurses’ preferences and health services’ staffing needs while limiting unhealthy working hours may improve nurses’ burnout and exhaustion. Given the implications of burnout on nurse well-being, retention and patient safety, finding such solutions is imperative.”

You can read more about the study here –

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