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Stop Requiring Nurses to Work Overtime

By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   January 31, 2012

Nurse managers should also use in-services and other forms of education to raise awareness of the effects of fatigue on their health and job performance to be sure that nurses who do volunteer for overtime aren't overdoing it.

But Brewer also cautions against "voluntary" overtime that's really more of a requirement. If a nurse manager begs and pleads with a nurse to "do her a favor" and pick up an extra shift, or threatens to make her work on a weekend when she doesn't want to, then the overtime isn't really voluntary at all.

"I think that has more to do with the organizational culture and the relationship of the supervisors to the nurses," Brewer says. "My guess is that anybody who has kind of that relationship with their nurses is not going to have a very happy unit."

The real test for the effectiveness of these mandatory overtime laws will come during the next acute nursing shortage, Brewer says. But in the meantime, nurse managers always need to be thinking about what's important to their nurses, and ways to increase satisfaction and reduce turnover.

"I think what leaders have to think about always is the long term. Whether we're in a shortage or not, the factors that create satisfaction and longitudinal loyalty from your employees tend to stay the same," Brewer says. "Just because your staffing issues aren't as acute doesn't mean you shouldn't be paying attention to them."

Moreover, high use of mandatory overtime is likely a symptom of bigger problems.

"If you've got high use of mandatory overtime you've got other organizational issues that are also impacting the nurses' satisfaction and organizational commitment," Brewer says.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.

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