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How to Protect Nurses from Burnout? Boost Self-Esteem

All too often, nurses, may exit the job sooner than anticipated due to burnout. Now a study suggests there are some psychological factors that can help protect nurses against burnout.

While anyone can experience burnout — a mental or physical exhaustion that makes a job difficult, if not impossible — nurses and other medical professionals are at incredibly high risk. The constant exposure to heavy workloads combined with the psychological stress of coping with patient suffering and illness, among other reasons, can lead to burnout. All too often, nurses, in particular, may exit the job sooner than anticipated due to burnout.

A study in Frontiers in Psychology suggests some psychological factors can help protect nurses against burnout — self-esteem and self-efficacy. María del Mar Molero, of the University of Almería, Almería in Spain, did find that workload was associated with more burnout. However, nurses with higher self-esteem and self-efficacy were protected against burnout more than those with lower levels. 

What Did The Study Find?

These psychological factors have been studied in the past and found to have an impact on many aspects of life, including school, work, and relationships. For example, self-esteem is the positive or negative evaluation of a person's self-worth, which is related to well-being and satisfaction, and can affect the ability to handle stress and cope during conflicts. Self-efficacy is related to feelings of control. People with self-efficacy feel like they have some control over their surroundings and can influence how others behave and think about events.

In the study, the research team surveyed 1307 nurses with an average age of 32, ranging from 22 to 60. 84.5% were women, 32.9% had permanent contracts, and the remainder worked temporary jobs. The participants were asked about their workload or the number of people they attended to daily and were given the Brief Burnout Questionnaire, the General Self-Efficacy Scale, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale.

A heavier workload was indeed associated with a greater likelihood of burnout. But when the researchers looked at the psychological factors, they found that people with higher self-esteem and self-efficacy were less likely to have burnout than those with lower levels. In general, the health professionals who scored higher on levels of self-efficacy also tended to have greater self-esteem.

What Can Be Done?

The study has practical implications for helping to retain workers and reduce burnout. For example, organizations can redesign job positions and work on training and support that benefits workers. In addition, the World Health Organization considers burnout an "occupational illness of special relevance," the authors note. Burnout can lead to physical symptoms, like gastrointestinal and respiratory problems, absenteeism, negative job performance, and psychological problems.

"Organizations should design interventions for promoting the personal resources of their workers through training activities and organizational resources (e.g., redesigning job positions) to promote satisfaction and well-being of employees, making their stay at work greater," the authors conclude.

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