image of a nurse starting out shift happy and ending shift distresses

The very nature of nursing presents a recipe that inherently does not support happiness. Nurses week should not be the only time the happiness of nurses earns an highlight. The happiness of nurses should be intentionally built into the fabric of healthcare systems. Supporting nurses and their happiness is not only beneficial to the individual, but to all peoples’ lives that nurses touch.

Nature of nursing: The challenge to happy nurses

Health care facilities run 24/7. Shift work in healthcare is inevitable as it ensures continuity in the provision of patient care. With shift work, creating an environment where we have happy nurses as part of the culture seems unattainable.

Shift work affects physical health, mental health, and social life in deep ways. Ignoring such effects can have catastrophic consequences that affect whole communities both in the short and long term.

Nurses not only take part in shift work, but also must accommodate rotating schedules in most hospitals and facilities. Chronic shortages in the healthcare workforce have often made schedules unpredictable.

Indeed, shift nurses play a crucial role in patient care. The unique schedules of nurses, even though presenting the appearance of flexibility, can take a toll on all aspects of their well-being. Night shift nurses and other health care workers on rotating schedules are the most affected (1) ( 2) (3).

Presenteeism is also quite common among nurses due to the pressure (both perceived and real) placed on them by management. Such pressure is mostly driven by staff shortages. Working while sick is harmful to both the worker and the recipient of care; it is dangerous.

On-site nurses have often been “requested” to work an extra continuous shift due to unexpected call-ins. Committed nurses find it difficult to decline such requests even when exhaustion has already set in. Such unpredictability of schedules and the delicate nature of the nursing job puts nurses under constant stress, a thief of happy vibes.

Five practical tips for making happy nurses and supporting shift workers

1. Optimize scheduling and shift rotation

  • Predictable Schedules: Provide a consistent and predictable shift schedule so workers can plan their personal lives and rest periods effectively. Avoid frequent changes in shifts while allowing for flexibility in the overall schedule design (4).
  • Forward Rotation: Implement forward rotating shifts (morning to evening to night) rather than backward rotations to help workers adjust better to different shift times(5).
  • Limit Consecutive Nights: Reduce the number of consecutive night shifts to minimize the cumulative fatigue that can build up over several nights.

2. Promote healthy sleep habits

  • Sleep Environment: Encourage workers to create a sleep-friendly environment at home. This includes using blackout curtains, 100% blackout sleep mask, maintaining a cool room temperature, and reducing noise with earplugs or white noise machines (6).
  • Pre-Shift Naps: Suggest taking a nap before starting a night shift to reduce sleepiness and improve alertness during work.
  • Consistent Sleep Schedule: Advise on keeping a consistent sleep schedule, even on days off, to help regulate their internal body clock.

3. Provide nutritional support (7)

  • Healthy Meals: Offer healthy meal options in the workplace cafeteria. While this choice is often unavailable during night shift, it is a fantastic way to support the well-being of shift workers. Include a variety of balanced meals that provide sustained energy without causing digestive issues.
  • Hydration: Ensure easy access to water and encourage regular hydration. Discourage excessive caffeine intake, particularly in the latter half of the shift, to prevent sleep disturbances post-shift.
  • Nutritious Snacks: Stock break rooms with nutritious snacks such as fruits, nuts, yogurt, and whole-grain options. Limit or completely exclude high-sugar, high-fat snacks.

4. Encourage physical activity and breaks

  • Scheduled Breaks: Enforce regular breaks during the night shift to allow workers to rest and recharge. Short, frequent breaks can help keep alertness and reduce fatigue.
  • Exercise Opportunities: Provide facilities or opportunities for light exercise, such as a designated walking area or a small gym. Physical activity can help improve mood and energy levels (8).
  • Stretching Exercises: Encourage simple stretching exercises during breaks to reduce muscle stiffness and promote circulation.

5.Offer mental health and wellness Support

  • Access to Counseling: Provide easy access to mental health resources, such as counseling services. Such resources help workers manage stress and emotional challenges associated with night shifts.
  • Wellness Programs: Implement wellness programs that include stress management techniques, relaxation exercises, and mindfulness training (9).
  • Peer Support Groups: Foster a supportive work environment by setting up peer support groups where shift workers can share experiences and coping strategies. Such groups will be particularly helpful to night shift workers (10).

When nurses and health care shift workers feel supported, it leads to a more positive, productive, and healthy work environment. This not only benefits the workers themselves but also happy nurses enhance patient care and the overall functioning of healthcare facilities. When life outside work is stress-free, nurses have good emotional reserves for dealing with workplace stressors.

Five benefits of promoting the happiness of nurses

1. Reduces stress and burnout

  • Supportive work environments help reduce stress and burnout levels, which are common in nursing due to the high demands and emotional challenges of the job.
  • Reduced stress will also increase happiness and job satisfaction. With increased job satisfaction, improved retention of quality and happy nurses follows.

2. Increases quality of patient care and productivity.

  • Happy nurses are more likely to provide higher quality patient care, leading to better patient outcomes and satisfaction.
  • With a supportive environment, nurses are more efficient and productive in their tasks. Errors are reduced and the overall workflow is enhanced.

3. Creates positive workplace culture.

  • A culture of support, happy vibes, and appreciation contributes to a positive and nurturing work environment. A nurturing and positive work environment attracts and retains quality staff.
  • Supportive environments foster strong teamwork and collaboration, improving communication and relationships among staff. Positive relationships are essential to the overall well-being of nurses.

4. Improves work-life balance.

  • Encouraging a healthy work-life balance allows nurses to rest, destress, and rejuvenate adequately. Rest and rejuvenation are beneficial to the physical and mental health of nurses.
  • Supported nurses experience better physical and emotional health. The result is lower rates of absenteeism and presenteeism.

5. Increases initiative and innovation.

  • When nurses, like other humans, feel supported, they are more engaged, motivated, and committed to their roles.
  • Supportive environments encourage nurses to take initiative, suggest, and implement innovative ideas for improving patient care and workplace efficiency.

Takeaway message

Shift work is often necessary in many industries. Understanding and addressing the impacts of shift work on the wellness of nurses benefits everyone. Rotating schedules, flexible scheduling, and providing emotional support are some of the ways we can help improve the well-being of nurses and their families.

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