“Nothing is as far away as one minute ago.”
Time. It’s that thing that keeps ticking away on a clock. And for nurses, time and flexible work schedules are essential to maintaining a healthy work life balance. At the present time, when an abundant number of nurses are wanting to exit the profession, a happy work life balance is crucial.
What the COVID-19 Pandemic Taught Us About Staffing And Scheduling Regimens
There’s no doubt COVID-19 took the world by surprise. The surge of COVID-19 patients created a nightmare scenario which overwhelmed many hospitals. While these hospitals and healthcare systems became depleted, frontline healthcare workers suffered from burnout.
Frontline healthcare workers are an extremely vulnerable population who are also susceptible to the COVID-19 infection and many other pathogens. Some healthcare workers became infected with COVID-19 and unfortunately, some of them lost their lives. Many healthcare workers today are suffering mental health issues due to the increased mortality rates in the hospital and increased workload.
A survey conducted in 2020 by the American Nurses Association’s (ANA) non-profit branch The American Nurses Foundation, where 22,316 nurses participated, discovered that 71 % of young nurses felt overwhelmed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Due to work having a negative effect on their physical and mental health, 47 % of those nurses who were surveyed stated that they plan to leave the nursing profession. The study further noted that 45 % of nurses surveyed planned to leave the nursing profession due to insufficient staffing ratios.
Having ample backup staff and planning geared towards an efficient workforce should be the top priority for all healthcare systems in the present and in the future. It’s essential to ensure safe patient care to all patient populations. Many hospitals were able to recruit nurses from outside agencies to supplement and replenish their work force during the COVID-19 crisis. This came with a hefty price tag as some nurses reported making on average from $5200-$10,000 per week.
A study published in the Infection Control Journal of Epidemiology in 2020, found that sufficient back up of uninfected healthcare workers should be the main priority in staffing and scheduling in hospitals and community healthcare clinics. The study further noted that in order to optimize staff scheduling and to reduce COVID-19 infection rates, the interaction between various healthcare workers needed to be minimized. Placing limits on the patient population that healthcare workers are exposed to was also shown to have benefits to decreasing infection. For example, the study recommended that in order to preserve the hospital workforce, physicians and nurses should share rotations that are at least 3 days long, with 12-hour nursing shifts.
Nurse Autonomy + Flexible Work Schedules = Better Self Care And Staffing Ratios
Let’s face it, life on planet earth is a busy one. We all should be working to live instead of living to work in order to improve our quality of life. Flexible work schedules are key to longevity for nurses in the healthcare workforce. Nurses who have greater freedom and control with their work schedules and are able to use self-scheduling techniques in their hospital units, report improved job satisfaction. However, there are studies that found negative outcomes to
self-scheduling. The study pointed out that there were barriers to collecting data as well as enablers which made the study process difficult.
Any nurse manager will cringe at the constant patient census fluctuations that can happen in a hospital unit on a day to day basis. It’s true, there’s so much unpredictability that even the world’s best psychic could have problems figuring out the best nurse to patient ratios needed. Nurse managers are increasingly using alternative work arrangements to get their staffing ratios under control for better patient safety. Some alternative work arrangements include: shift work, temporary work, and non-standardized employment relations.
Flexible schedules for nurses, in order to ensure a proper work life balance should be the number one priority to consider for all hospital nurse managers who are in charge of staffing their units and nurse workforce. It’s also the answer to prevent new nurses from prematurely exiting the profession and to safeguard both their physical and mental health.
The important thing to remember is that nurses are not robots, they are people. They have lives that are meant to be lived outside of the hospital. Hospitals should search for innovative self-staffing techniques and technology to better serve their nurses and retain staff.
At a time where many nurses are wanting to exit the profession causing a nursing shortage that has a potential to have catastrophic consequences, nurse autonomy in scheduling could be the answer to preserve the nurse workforce and divert a shortage in the nursing profession. Improving nurse scheduling can also improve the nurse burnout rate and improve mental health as well as work satisfaction.