Healthcare Workers

Why Are Nurses Unhappy?

Why Are Nurses Unhappy?

Several studies have shown that nurses have a low happiness quotient, but why? It’s an important job, it requires a great deal of skill, and it’s one of the few professions that offers directly expressed customer satisfaction. You make patients comfortable and happy, and they are quick to tell you how much they appreciate it. Not that every patient is grateful or that every one credits you with making them comfortable, we all know that’s a fantasy. But there are enough patients who appreciate what you do to make your job an overall satisfying experience. Right? Perhaps not.

In February, Monash University researchers released a study called What Nurses Want: Analysis of the First National Survey on Nurses’ Attitudes to Work and Work Conditions in Australia that shed light on some of the problems standing in the way of nursing happiness. Although the study dealt with nurses on another continent, I think you’ll find their answers surprisingly familiar.

Nurse retention

In the face of looming nurse shortages, medical facilities are sorely in need of a strategy to retain nurses. Typical businesses have an attrition rate of about 4% from people changing professions, and that rate jumps as high as 6% for stressful positions. However, about 15% of the nurses in the survey professed a desire to leave the profession in the next 12 months…2 ½ times the normal rate.

A similar study published in the American Journal of Nursing, Nurses’ Job Satisfaction Linked to Patient Satisfaction in 2011 found eerily similar results. The bottom line: Nurses are burnt out, dissatisfied, and ready to jump ship. But why?

It’s all in the ‘tude.

Both studies highlight similar reasons, and it’s often about…well, let’s call it lack of respect. Not from patients…from employers. Some reasons cited:

  • Lack of autonomy – nurses want more control over their hours and shifts.
  • Benefits – Ironically, nearly 45% of nurses cited dissatisfaction with health care benefits.

◦     55% were unsatisfied with retirement benefits.

  • Another very popular reason cited was lack of opportunity for advancement.

Traditionally, nurses have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to pay and responsibility. They are responsible for everything and have to answer to patients, patients’ families, doctors, and administrators. It’s a lot of pressure, especially when they feel undervalued.

Patient Satisfaction

The AJN study also found an unsurprising corollary; when nurses are unhappy, so are patients. This raised questions about the quality of care at medical facilities with the highest incidence of nurse dissatisfaction.

The good news is that employers are taking notice, and they seem to understand, at least on a theoretical level, that they must make some changes. Until that happens…

What you can do to avoid burnout

Nurses are notorious for working too hard and neglecting their own health while caring for everyone else. To avoid burnout, learn to say no and mean it.

  • Work fewer hours.
  • Find a balance between work and life.
  • Eat healthy.
  • Take some classes and get new certifications, or even go back to school for a specialty.
  • If you feel trapped and unappreciated, change venue. Uproot yourself and work on the road for a while. A change of scenery will do you a world of good.

Burnout is about stagnation, exhaustion and being taken for granted. Put yourself in a situation where you have more control over your contract, your hours, and your life. You have the power to create positive change and enjoy your life and your job. It’s really a matter of finding the right situation, where you’re respected, compensated, less stressed, and happy.






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