Caring for those who care for us: improving nurses’ wellbeing

Almost two years since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 is still weighing on our daily lives. Before anyone else, this weight is especially heavy for nurses and carers on the front line, and it is taking a toll on their wellbeing, both at work and in their personal lives.

The pandemic has exposed gaping holes in our health system, where staff have been disproportionately put at risk. Having shown incredible strength and flexibility, and adapted their work methods more often and quicker than in any other industry, many in healthcare are beginning to feel that they haven’t been rewarded fairly for the effort they put in, and that their voices are not being heard.

Shortages of nursing staff are nothing new. Across the world, the World Health Organization estimates that there is a shortage of 5.9 million nurses. However, a recent report revealed that even before the pandemic, nearly 73% of nursing staff surveyed were worried that staffing levels didn’t allow them to guarantee adequate care. The report found that “Nursing staffing levels weren’t acceptable to staff or patients then and [...] demand has continued to build”.

The current situation is obviously worrying, but the destiny of nursing and healthcare can yet be rewritten. Solutions can be implemented to make the future brighter for nurses on a local and national scale, and empower individual establishments and nurses themselves to bring about change, without waiting for lengthy public reform.

So we can achieve change together, let Brigad share with you these tangible, tried-and-tested tips for improving nurses’ wellbeing.

Understanding nurses’ gripes - flaws in the system only exacerbated by the pandemic

The pandemic hit at a time when public hospitals were already going through an unprecedented crisis, largely catalysed by cuts to supplies and human resources. The effects of these cuts were even more brutal with the arrival of the pandemic. Many in healthcare felt ill-equipped to care for and protect their patients. A feeling of powerlessness and lack of control, for which we must now find solutions to improve the wellbeing of our nurses.

Massive influxes of patients and constant changes to organisational practices led to a mountain of work and increasing amounts of new guidelines to implement. Making difficult decisions around prioritising which patient needs care before another, under extreme time constraints, can have a heavy psychological impact and lead to cognitive exhaustion.

Even before the pandemic, nurses were already at a higher risk of suffering from mental health problems than other workers, and this has only worsened over the last two years. The lack of recognition of the difficulties they face, which are often under-diagnosed and under-treated, causes deep frustration among nurses. There is also a general feeling of not being listened to by management or by the public bodies that are meant to protect them. It’s as if the industry as a whole has set off the emergency alarm about working conditions and the impact they have on the quality of care they give, but no one can hear the alarm ringing.

Make nurses’ lives easier to increase patient wellbeing

Throughout the pandemic, NHS nurses participated in demonstrations, including as early as in August 2020, where disgruntled nursing staff protested against the reduced level of care they were able to provide with current staffing levels and salaries.

Improving nurses’ wellbeing in this respect is essential for ensuring that patients are treated in the most effective way and in the best possible conditions.

The level of care that nurses can give is contingent on the efficient organisation of their daily tasks, their inclusion in decision-making processes, and their access to adequate rest days. Staff turnover also adds pressure on healthcare establishments, harming ongoing care, staff/patient relations, and the system’s ability to meet the public’s needs. Looking after nurses’ wellbeing at work, therefore, seems an obvious solution to many of these issues.

Healthcare establishment managers: tangible solutions for improving nurses’ wellbeing

Statistics in all KPIs demonstrate that nurses are overwhelmingly unsatisfied at work: from absenteeism to high turnover and leaving the industry - the rates in nursing are higher than in other professions, and this has a consequence on nurses’ health and that of their patients.

Nurses’ wellbeing can be improved in many ways. Other than recognising the risks involved in their jobs, other factors to consider are: showing that their work is valued, reinforcing social relationships in the workplace, and finding ways to strike a better work/life balance.

Here are 5 realistic options to reverse the trend and improve nurses’ wellbeing.

1. Manage differently and listen - for a more participative decision-making process

One of the key areas for improving the quality of work life (QWL) for nurses is for management to consider adapting its processes. Affording nurses more independence when carrying out their daily missions is the first step to take in this direction. The second is to open a regular dialogue, allowing staff to have their say on their working conditions and share ideas about improving nurses’ wellbeing.

This could take the form of occasional staff support meetings with the guidance of a psychotherapist, for example, perhaps with a group made up of different professions, to help define each other’s roles and encourage a participative culture. Alternatively, try creating a space that is conducive to exchanging ideas.

Experimenting with small but significant changes such as these has, in the past, demonstrated a clear improvement for both nurses and patients. This approach fosters natural leadership among staff, who discover the value of their ideas, and who will be happier to independently take initiatives in the future.

2. Use new technologies to improve working conditions

As we discussed in a previous article, technology can also be a powerful tool for improving working conditions and helping staff work together efficiently in healthcare establishments.

Let’s use administrative tasks as an example. Currently, nurses only spend a third of their time on the wards looking after patients, with the rest of their time taken up by other activities including filling in forms in front of computers. Simplifying - or altogether automating - these tasks and processes can be an excellent way to reduce the workload of hospital staff. Among existing solutions, you will find, for example, online appointment booking platforms, voice-to-text software for taking notes, or interactive servers that can handle incoming calls and automatically send appointment reminders.

Digital tools can also provide a particularly effective solution for solving the problem of absenteeism. Being able to quickly request (and find) qualified nurses to fill in for absent staff will not only allow you to maintain a high level of care for your patients but also avoid overloading your other staff members with work.

Brigad’s platform lets you post an ad in just a few clicks and gain access to over 150,000 freelance nurses to support your care team when you need it.

3. Look after your teams’ health

Improving nurses’ wellbeing also involves looking after their physical health. Nurses are highly exposed to the risk of burnout and take more sick days than other professions. As well as providing psychological support - essential during a pandemic - tangible solutions can also be implemented to look after their physical health.

A stressful work environment, repetitive movements, and bad posture when carrying out manual tasks all expose nurses to the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, which cause nearly 9 million days off from work every year in the UK. Adequate training is essential here, as well as investing in electronic equipment for lifting people from beds. Robotisation could also be an avenue to explore. In physiotherapy, some German and Danish hospitals already use robots that are capable of carrying out 15 treatments per day, freeing up time for nurses and carers and reducing the risk of injury.

4. Create safe spaces to improve nurses’ wellbeing

Simply modifying the work environment can also play a part in improving nurses’ wellbeing at work. Researchers examined the importance of nursing staff spending some ‘alone time’ in specially created spaces where they can rest or take a phone call while keeping an eye on their patients.

It is also proven that an aesthetically-pleasing environment is good for nurses. Ambience and decoration play a direct role in our quality of life at work. It’s time to scrap the cold and sterile environments often associated with healthcare establishments!

Finally, optimising spaces will allow staff to reduce time spent travelling between two tasks. This waste of energy can take up 20% of working time and lead to conflict between teams working on different things in the same space. Elsewhere, a hospital in Annecy, France, even rolled out GPS trackers on all movable equipment, using the hospital’s WiFi network for staff to be able to easily find what equipment they need.

5. The importance of training

To conclude, attaching more importance to internal training can provide a huge boost to nursing teams’ wellbeing. As well as meeting their professional aspirations, and increasing the level of expertise within your establishment, it is also a good way to create bonds between staff and encourage sharing ideas. Training courses are as much about learning as they are opportunities to speak freely - and they also contribute to improving nurses’ wellbeing at work.

How to take charge of your own wellbeing at work and maintain control over your working conditions

When it comes to QWL, workplaces are responsible for a large part of measures and initiatives put in place to improve nurses’ wellbeing. However, since individual wellbeing is a personal journey, workers can nevertheless harness their own initiative and independence to improve matters themselves.

Here are some avenues to explore for creating a more fulfilling work environment and daily work life.

Consider freelance work to rediscover your freedom

For the vast majority of nursing staff, professional wellbeing is synonymous with flexibility - both in terms of working patterns and methods. According to the NHS’ own research, over 80% of nursing staff have expressed a desire to benefit from some form of flexible working to improve their QWL.

Freelance work does just that. It helps nurses gain in independence and freedom. Freelance status allows you to work around your availabilities, and be able to work a variety ofdifferent shift patterns, choosing the jobs you want to do from a wide array of available missions.

Brigad allows nursing staff to easily find missions that suit them. From the application, you select your clients and your jobs, thereby considerably increasing your freedom, your professional opportunities, and your revenue!

Finding a better work/life balance

Another important factor at stake when considering nurses’ wellbeing at work is, of course, work/life balance. The nature of the job and the unsociable hours can quickly encroach on your personal life. It’s not easy to shut off from work when you work changing shift patterns, when you’re called in for emergencies, or when you’re on call on weekends and bank holidays.

Business managers can also play a significant role in this, by affording their teams some flexibility around working hours, or making transport and childcare more easily accessible, for example.

However, if you feel that your work life is taking up too much space and is eating into the quality of your personal life, you can always try to redress the balance. That’s easier said than done, of course, but by maintaining a certain discipline (especially learning to say no) or forcing yourself to take a longer holiday to fully relax and unwind, you will definitely notice tangible improvements to your wellbeing at work.

More than ever before, nurses’ wellbeing is the keystone of our health system. Happy staff make for better-treated patients. Brigad accompanies healthcare establishments and nurses in their quest to improve wellbeing at work. Whether you need backup to reinforce a team, or you’re looking for freelance missions to do your job with greater flexibility, our team is with you every step of the way!

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