Work Stress and Nurses

While most (let’s just admit it, all) professions come with their fair share of stresses, decades-long studies demonstrate that nurses across the globe

While most (let’s just admit it, all) professions come with their fair share of stresses, decades-long studies demonstrate that nurses across the globe, including Australia and New Zealand, experience a heightened level of workplace stress due to several factors, including four sources of anxiety commonly found among nurses, as identified in Menzies I.E.P – 1951:

  • Patient Care
  • Decision Making
  • Taking Responsibility
  • Change


The result of this workplace stress is a higher level of burnout among nurses, which results in costly turnover rates and extended absences from work. Furthermore, the effects stress has on one’s body and health is staggering. Stress leads to illness, injury, and psychological distress. A great deal of research has proven that job stress is directly related to workplace health and safety.  Certainly it’s in the best interests of Australian hospital administrators, nurses, as well as the remainder of the population (who not only will, likely, find themselves under the care of a nurse but also financially contribute to national health care costs) to find a way to help alleviate workplace stress for nurses. But how?

Diagnosing why stress happens in the first place

While the list below can certainly be interpreted for most professions throughout New Zealand and Australia, it specifically targets the typical stressors that nurses seem to be overly exposed to on a regular basis:

  • Long work hours
  • Poor reward systems
  • Poor workplace communication
  • Lack of control over their routines


And while these stressors certainly weigh heavily on any individual, what is most concerning is a statistic that’s been released in the U.S., by the American Nurses Association. The ANA found that 17% of surveyed nurses report having been physically assaulted at work, while nearly 60% of those surveyed were threatened or verbally abused (as noted in the 2011 Health and Safety Survey conducted by the American Nurses Association). The culprits behind the physical attacks have been primarily patients and patients’ families, while the nonphysical attacks were perpetrated by other nurses, managers, physicians and coworkers.

It’s no wonder, perhaps, that more than 40% of nurses score high for burnout, with nearly half of surveyed nurses reporting high levels of emotional exhaustion. This, of course, can have traumatic effects on a hospital setting.

Alleviating stress among nurses

Reducing the level of stress among nurses in a hospital or medical setting can take on several approaches. These approaches often include person-focused and organization-focused interventions. Many employers establish stress management programs, which are forms of person-focused interventions, where the individual is provided the tools and skills to cope with difficult work situations while learning how to reduce stress within themselves. This is a great and often economical way to help reduce the affects of stress among any staff. And while many stress management programs are considered to be generic, cookie-cutter programs, you can certainly find reputable stress-management professionals who provide customized and specific seminars and workshops tailored to the needs of your environment and staff. But still, this process isn’t necessarily targeting the actual stressors found inside your workplace environment. That’s where an organization-focused intervention can prove to be life-changing. Organization-focused interventions help you to identify the specific stressors which exist in your workplace setting. Once you identify these stressors, you can design an action plan to address each issue, such as:

The best of both worlds

The most effective way to improve the workplace setting for your nurses is to use a combined approach of personal and organization-focused interventions. By addressing both the root of the problem and the victims of the environment, you can establish a change in your workplace setting that proves to be long-term. Learn more about how health professionals can improve their workplace setting. 

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