Nurse managers play a critical role in driving staff engagement and improving clinical outcomes, but too often they're struggling under heavy workloads that can accelerate burnout.
Advisory Board research shows 62% of nurse managers are planning to leave their roles within the next five years, with many citing burnout as a significant contributing factor.
The reason is two-fold: Nurse managers are being inundated with new demands and initiatives. Also, certain demands—such as data and analysis, staff scheduling, and back-office work—are time consuming and quickly become pinch points that drag down nurse managers' productivity and leave them with little time to truly lead.
Often these demands are occurring behind the scenes where senior nurse leaders can't immediately see them. But at most organizations, there are five opportunities for nurse executives to control the stream of new demands and alleviate the pinch points for nurse managers.
5 strategies to ease your nurse managers' workload
Step 1: Filter strategic initiatives from above. In an effort to keep pace with new payment models, health system executives are developing new strategies, and many of those implementation burdens fall to nurse managers. But nurse leaders are uniquely positioned to filter out those efforts before they reach nurse managers to ensure they do not land on nurse managers' shoulders at once. As a senior nurse leader, you can work with health system executives to identify and eliminate duplicative initiatives. Senior nurse leaders can also route specific unit-level projects to unit councils lead by frontline staff, rather than over-relying on nurse managers for their implementation.
Step 2: Spotlight and control lateral seepage. Nurse managers often end up handling work delegated from other departments, and while these demands may not be overwhelming individually, together, they can take up a of a nurse manager's time.
To fix this, it's important to ensure nurse managers have a safe channel to share interdisciplinary challenges with leadership. In many cases, with the support of directors and CNOs, unit managers may be able to identify work that could be more efficiently done by another department and reassign it to that department.
Step 3: Buffer against 24/7 unit demands. Nurse managers are accountable for their unit 24/7. However as technology and communication norms have changed, that 24/7 accountability has evolved into 24/7 accessibility—and that can make it hard for nurse managers to disconnect from work.
To alleviate this burden, senior nurse directors and executives should create an after-hours communication policy for frontline staff with clear points of contact during a nurse manager's off-hours. This provides frontline staff with the ability to find answers to their urgent questions without placing that burden on the nurse manager.
Senior nurse leaders also can champion protected time during work hours to allow nurse managers to get away from unit operations and focus on work that is important, but not necessarily urgent.
Step 4: Elevate a manager's role to sign-off. Nurse managers often spend a lot of time searching for data and managing staff schedules, activities which make up a significant portion of their workload.
Nurse leaders can address this by assigning dedicated experts to track, analyze, and translate unit-level data into a format easy for nurse managers to use. Leaders can also shift the primary scheduling responsibilities to frontline staff, who can follow a self-scheduling process with specific guidelines and a multi-level approval process. Guidelines should include clear personal leave policies and minimum requirements for night and/or weekend shifts.
Step 5: Better leverage in-house support. It's not uncommon for nurse managers to feel as if their operational responsibilities leave them "stuck in an office" and unable to engage with patients and staff.
Creating more "back-office" support for nurse managers can alleviate this problem, as it will provide operational support and reduce span of control, which allows nurse managers to have more meaningful interactions with both patients and staff.
To learn more about how to put an end to nurse manager overload and how to implement these practices into your workflow, be sure to download our infographic on five strategies for reducing nurse manager overload. And Nursing Executive Center members can download the full report on how to Put an End to Nurse Manager Overload.