The perfect recipe for optimizing employee and patient satisfaction at long-term care and skilled nursing facilities includes two key elements: a well-staffed facility and a team of nursing professionals who feel appreciated and engaged. 

Unfortunately, that scenario is not often the case in post-acute care.

Long-term care and skilled nursing facilities are typically widely understaffed, forcing regular nursing staff to work overtime while dealing with a population of residents of increasingly higher acuity. When those factors combine, a facility acts like a pressure cooker for burnout and staff feels overworked, disengaged and undervalued. 

Burnout is an unfortunate reality in healthcare — especially long-term care — but it doesn’t have to be an inevitable reality. 

Here are three tips to improve nursing professionals’ lives, the lives of your patients and the rest of your staff: 

1. Invest in nurses’ mental health 

Nursing is a hard job to begin with. Long hours on their feet and the stress of balancing the physical and mental wellbeing of patients is exhausting. Add overstaffing, forced overtime and nurse abuse, and the job can start to negatively impact a nursing professional’s mental health. Untreated mental disorders like burnout can manifest themselves in poor communication, tardiness, and patient abuse and neglect — all resulting in poor patient outcomes.

To mitigate the effects of intense stress, facilities should offer stress training programs, phone counseling sessions and self-care support that helps nursing professionals identify the symptoms of burnout. Recognizing symptoms and identifying steps to better manage stress are the first steps. Giving nurses the autonomy to take control of their own situation allows them to improve their own performance and their health. 

2. Praise and encourage your team

According to a study by RNNetwork, almost 50% of nurses who considered leaving the nursing profession reported they didn’t feel respected by their administration. As the U.S. faces a looming nursing shortage, it’s imperative that administrations work to change that sentiment.

A greater effort to make nurses feel appreciated will go a long way toward eradicating disenchantment and disengagement among a team and throughout the nursing profession. Simple efforts made by leadership — like fostering empathy and trust, acknowledging hard work and providing general support — can give nursing professionals the sense that the long hours they log actually matter to the patients and facility alike. 

3. Address staffing needs head-on 

There’s no way around it: The largest contributor to nurse burnout is short staffing. No employee benefit can overcorrect for too many overtimes, too many shifts worked without enough staff on the floor and not enough time off to recover. Facilities need to make sure they aren’t burning out their staff, but how they make that happen is up for discussion. 

Studies indicate that nurses are happier when they have more control over their schedules. Investing in tools, such as technology-enabled platforms where nursing professionals can build their own schedule, could be one solution. Giving nursing professionals autonomy over their schedules has paid off in some hospitals that have invested in such solutions. It has even resulted in nurses picking up more shifts and being more flexible about the shifts they pick up. 

While it’s sometimes a “dirty word” in the world of healthcare, agency staffing can also be an option. Skilled nursing facilities hate to admit it but most need to leverage agencies to ensure they operate under safe standards. Managing agency staff may sound like more work for your scheduler or administrator, but agencies allow you to fill gaps in your schedule and give your hardworking staff a break.

As you consider using agency staff, perhaps begrudgingly, remember that not every agency is created equal. Some staffing agencies have transformed what once was a very manual process for facilities (for example, playing phone tag with multiple agencies to find staff) into a technology-driven approach that can intelligently match available nurses with facilities that need help.

That can help schedulers and administrators spend less time worrying about corralling agencies and more time filling shifts with confidence. It’s also important to remember that while staffing shifts with agency workers can be more expensive in the short term, it easily pays off in the long term by removing the cost of finding and replacing full-time staff. It also  reduces the loss of quality admissions as a result of poor patient outcomes.

Burnout is just one problem plaguing the long-term care community, but tackling it can help reduce some of the larger issues at hand, like high turnover rates and nurse shortages. 

By reducing burnout, your facility can improve its operations three-fold: retain more nursing staff, improve the quality of patient care and maintain or improve the bottom line by filling beds.

However your facility decides to address burnout, remember that nurses are not percentages in studies. They’re humans. And sometimes the best ingredients to solve human problems are human solutions, such as investing in your team’s wellbeing and happiness through additional support.