Pandemic-era burnout, short-staffing has more nurses eyeing the door, survey says

A new survey of nurses and nursing students underscores growing burnout across the clinical workforce and the impact COVID-19 could have on front-line healthcare workers’ willingness to stay in the field for the long run.

Across 571 respondents polled in spring 2021, about two-thirds of nurses and nursing students shared some degree of interest in leaving the profession.

Further, 52% of respondents said they were either very or completely satisfied with their career prior to the pandemic’s onset. As of the spring, that number dwindled to 32% with the youngest respondents, millennials, falling even lower to 22%.

The results of the survey—which was conducted by healthcare staffing and advisory firm Cross Country Healthcare and Florida Atlantic University’s Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing—point to heavier workloads and short staffing as key contributors to the growing dissatisfaction.

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Twenty-four percent of respondents said feelings of burnout were fueling their job dissatisfaction, while 17% pointed to insufficient nursing staff, 13% overwork or stress, 12% unsatisfactory pay or benefits and 7% unsafe or unsatisfactory working conditions.

“Our nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system and if too many leave or decide not to pursue a career in nursing, the consequences would be catastrophic,” said Safiya George, dean and professor at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, in a statement. “Our nurses need solutions, many of them outlined in this research, that will ease burnout and reduce stress, as well as help them enjoy long-term and satisfying careers.”

The respondents were quick to point to pay and incentives as motivators, with just over 80% agreeing that employers will need to raise compensation if they want to attract and retain nursing staff.

Seventy-three percent said employers will need to implement more flexible scheduling for nurses, 70% said employers will need to improve their use of staff resources and 58% said they believe more facilities will need to rely on per diem and travel nurses to fill the gaps.

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Cross Country Healthcare and the nursing college fielded their survey between April 1 and May 31. Among the respondents, 80% said they were currently employed, 10% were students and 10% were either unemployed or retired. Three in 5 respondents said they worked in a hospital setting.

Nurses have been vocal about the impact long hours and limited resources have had on their resiliency throughout the year, with some industry groups pointing the blame squarely at hospitals’ cost-cutting efforts. Short-staffing and unsatisfactory pay have also led clinical workforces to walk off the job.

For their part, hospital leaders are well aware of the growing labor crisis, with many reaching into their wallets to up wages and fill the gaps with costly temporary workers. Hospitals nationwide have seen steady increases in workforce-related expenses through October, with overtime and agency staffing alone estimated to be costing the industry an additional $24 billion in nationwide annual spending.