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Delegation Prevents Nurse Manager Burnout

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, August 17, 2010

These are the dog days of August. We’re roasting in high temperatures and dreaming of trips to the beach. This is the time we should be taking vacations and using the time to relax, refresh, and return to work rejuvenated and reinvigorated.

Vacations are essential to everyone’s mental health, especially in the stressful world of nursing, where burnout is all too common. Nurse manager burnout is a topic that should be on the minds of senior leadership. Nurse managers are the critical layer of management that makes the difference between organizations meeting their goals or falling short. They make the difference in retention, turnover, patient satisfaction, financial success, and quality patient outcomes.

Nurse managers are often promoted without enough training or support, which leads to burnout. As I’ve written before, there are many ways senior leadership can support nurse managers. One of them is to encourage vacation time.

It’s easy to say take a vacation, but harder to do, and many nurse managers feel they can’t take time away. If they do, they are constantly in touch with the unit, answering emails and calls at all hours.

Last week, I polled a nurse manager audience to ask them about the best way to beat burnout. More than 60% responded “take a vacation.” The next highest response was attend a professional development conference, and it’s heartening to hear that focusing on their professional development rejuvenates them.

While they know in theory that it’s beneficial to take time off, in practice they are hindered by the fear of what will happen while they are gone.

I spoke with Shelley Cohen, president of Health Resources Unlimited, who teaches new nurse manager survival skills. She says nurse managers often feel things will fall apart if they are not there, especially if they are inexperienced.

Cohen says nurse managers need to learn how to delegate, which will reduce their stress, allow them to focus their attention on the most important priorities, and increase the skills of their staff.

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