Healthcare managers have a “big role” when it comes to the health and stress levels of the nurses they employ, according to the authors of a new study on stress in nursing. In particular, they lamented a lack of understanding or appreciation of burnout.

The research, conducted by a team at Ball State University, found that out of a group of 120 nurses working in the Midwest, the majority reported poor health habits as well as high levels of stress.

Ninety two percent of the nurses said their stress levels ranged from moderate to very high. When it came to managing that stress, 78% said they failed to get the recommended eight hours of sleep per night, while many also reported not exercising regularly (69%) and binge drinking (22%).

The study also found when nurses were confronted with workplace stress, many ate more junk food (70%) or used food as a coping mechanism (63%).

Unsurprisingly, the nurses who had the highest levels of stress but the poorest coping mechanisms had the worst health outcomes and highest health risks than those in other groups, said lead researcher Jagdish Khubchandani, Ph.D.

“Management has a big role to play in providing health promotion services and employee assistance programs to help deal with stress-related poor health behaviors, such as addiction,” Khubchandani said.  “What I find severely lacking is the understanding of burnout in nurses, its prevalence and its long-term impact on the nursing workforce of any facility.”

Khubchandani advised managers to invest in addressing their nurses’ stress and how they handle it, since healthier nurses perform better and can help save money in the long run.

Results of the study appear in the November issue of Nursing Research and Practice.