The Impact of Long Working Hours in Nursing
Working hours is an essential component of one’s professional life. Despite regulations on cumulative working hours and shift length, most workforces have irregular working patterns including extended shifts. This is attributed to the surge in workforce demand caused by globalization, which is suffocating the available human labor. The nursing industry is one of the sectors that have ditched the traditional eight-hour shift to settle for the 12-hour shift or longer in order to provide medical care efficiently (ANA Enterprise, n.d.). In recent years, the debate on health impacts of long working hours in the industry has intensified. The scientific community has mostly associated long working hours with various health problems including sleep disorders and poor concentration. This paper explores the impact of long working hours on nurses’ well-being and performance.
Numerous epidemiological studies in diverse fields have directly linked long working hours to hypertension and metabolic syndrome, as well as other complications like sleep disorders, depression and anxiety, and coronary heart disease (Fernandes et al., 2017). These findings can be applied in the nursing industry as well.According to a study by Fernades et al. in Brazil, nurses who work for long hours have poor health (2017). The survey, which employed the self-rated health methodology, involved 18 public hospitals in Brazil. Nurses attributed their illnesses to work overload and inadequate care due to long working hours. Regarding the aspect of susceptibility to risks and demands of work, nurses are normally exposed to unhealthy work environments including high emotional distress. The study found a connection between long working hours and psychosocial distress, effort-reward imbalance, and outsourced work (Fernandez et al., 2017).
Long working hours have also been connected to cognitive errors among nurses. Extended shifts disrupt hormone levels, sleep patterns, and blood pressure, as well as the circadian rhythms, which maintain the body temperature (ANA Enterprise, n.d.). With the long-term disruptions of these biological processes, an individual becomes vulnerable to chronic diseases. Additionally, inadequate sleep leads to fatigue and lower concentration, hence, poor performance at work. Stimpfel et al. cite several works including Wong et al. (2011), Caruso, (2014), and Salmien, 2016, which associate inadequate sleep with cognitive impairment, poor performance, and increased risk of injuries (2012).
Extended shifts cause burnout and dissatisfaction. Burnout refers to a state of chronic stress, which is usually accompanied by emotional exhaustion and depersonalization of patients (Stimpfel et al. 2012). Validating this hypothesis, Stimpfel et al. (2012) conducted a research that involved registered nurses from three hospitals. The study revealed that patients were less satisfied with the care offered by nurses who worked over 13 hours. Patients also reported poor communication by nurses working on extended shifts compared to those who worked for less than 12 hours. The study also linked longer shifts to burnout.
The nursing shortage has led to longer working hours, which undermines nurses’ well-being and job performance. The research on the impact of long working hours has recently intensified and various health complications have been attributed to extended shifts. These health complications include sleep disorders, hypertension and metabolic syndrome, burnout, depression, and anxiety. Studies have also revealed that long working hours disrupt biological processes such as hormones level, circadian rhythms, and blood pressure. The combination of these health problems leads to poor performance at work. This calls for efforts to improve work environments. Nursing officials should be aware of the effects of sleep deficiency and develop strategies to prevent or minimize the negative effects. There should be restructuring of the work schedule to promote breaks and enhance monitoring of the nurses’ working hours.
ANA Enterprise. Top Issues for Staff Nurses. ANA Enterprise. Care and Professional Development. Retrieved from https://www.nursingworld.org/resources/individual/staff-nurses/top-issues-for-staff-nurses/
Fernandes, J.C., Portela, L.F., Griep, R.H. &Rotenburg, L. (2017, June 20). Working hours and health in nurses in public hospitals according to gender. Rev Saude Publica, 51(63). Retrieved from 10.1590/S1518-8787.2017051006808
Stimpfel, A.W., Sloane, D.M. & Aiken, L.H. (2012, Nov 31). The longer the shifts for hospital nurses, the longer the levels of burnout and patient dissatisfaction. Author Manuscript, 31(11), 2501-09. Retrieved from 10.1377/hlthaff.2011.1377