Will Adding More Staff Reduce Nursing Stress?Nurses experience the stress of their nursing careers in a variety of ways. Some nurses find they take work home with them, unable to think about anything else after their shift is over. Others note their emotions are all over the place: one day happy, the next sad, or even a day of intense anger. Worst yet- nurses can turn to drugs, alcohol, and even food to cope with the stress of nursing.

There are so many factors that contribute to the stress of being a nurse, however many nurses will tell you that unsafe nurse-to-patient ratios are the culprit. In fact, earlier this month, thousands of nurses rallied in Washington DC to advocate for safe staffing. While this is an excellent cause and was a hugely successful show of nursing camaraderie and pride- there is evidence that adding more nurses may not be the answer. Interestingly in a recent article on nurse stress and staffing, Linda Aiken, professor of nursing and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and expert in the field of nurse staffing, states “If the work environment at a particular hospital is bad, just adding more nurses won’t address the problem.”

So we have a dilemma on our hands. And I’ve learned from a physician colleague Dike Drummond, MD that a dilemma is very different than a problem. While a problem has a solution, a dilemma does not. In fact, this issue of staffing and nursing stress is a multi-pronged dilemma… needing many different strategies along the way.

Will Adding More Staff Reduce Nursing Stress?Let’s think about it this way- we can have:

  • Organizations doing their part to impact staffing ratios
  • Nursing leadership putting safe staffing policies into practice
  • Individual nurses experiencing empowerment and healthy work environments

What do we have control over here? If you’ve been reading this blog along the way, you’ll be answering very quickly in this way: Ourselves. The only thing we can completely and realistically control is our own self. Our thoughts, feelings, words, actions and behaviors. So, while we certainly want nursing leaders, organizations and employers, and public policy to do their best to create safe staffing and reduce stress- we too can do our part.

  • Will Adding More Staff Reduce Nursing Stress?Focus On Goals. I read something on Facebook a few weeks ago that I just loved. It was a comment in the Your Next Shift community about sticking with goals. A nurse so clearly said- if you’re on the couch, you’re not moving forward! Well, how does this relate to reducing stress in your nursing career? When you have a target, you keep your eye on the prize. You avoid the drama in the workplace and continue taking steps to move forward towards your goal. Setting a nursing career or educational goal can help you focus on what’s important at work. Which leads us to…
  • Appreciate Assets. What we focus on we get more of. If you want to keep your attention turned to the negative things about work (e.g. not enough staffing, limited budget, or electronic charting), then that’s what you’ll receive. It’s such an interesting phenomenon. When you turn your attention to what’s good about work… you start to notice more and more positive stuff. Notice a colleague who did a good thing- you’ll start seeing more of your teammates in a positive light. Observe a patient learning things from your teaching- all of your patients will seem to be following your advice. It’s just the simple nature of the law of attraction. Like attracts like. Focus on the good things you have in the workplace and you’ll start to notice more and more assets you can leverage.
  • Provide Solutions. In talking to nurse leaders, I hear all of the time that the nurses they want on their teams are the ones who bring solutions to the table. No one wants to hear all of the complaints. Because guess what? They know what’s wrong and they’re struggling themselves with how to fix it. How cool would it be if you provide a solution to their problem? When you think about something like staffing, the electronic record, or patient volumes/flow- what kind of creative solutions can you bring to nursing leadership? Get creative here. Bringing ideas that no one has ever even imagined will propel you light years ahead. Which brings us to…
  • Get Involved. As a solution-focused nurse, you want to get involved in what’s important to you. Now one warning here- this doesn’t mean that you need to join EVERY committee or get into every project. You’ll spread yourself thin; get burned out; and be of service to no one fast. Here- I encourage you to think about your own individual strengths, things that you enjoy, and personal traits. Join the causes, committees, or work groups that most interest you. Get involved with the issues you have solutions for. And be a part of the group that is solving problems and making changes happen.

What did we miss? I’d love to hear how you increase your capacity for change. Leave a stress-reducing tip in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN; Founder of Nursing from WithinAbout the Author: As a keynote speaker, bestselling author and virtual conference host, Elizabeth partners with hospitals, organizations, associations, and nursing groups to help transform the field of nursing from the inside out. In her bestselling book, ‘Nursing from Within‘, Elizabeth supports nurses to make those inner shifts that are required to more fully enjoy our nursing careers.

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