Mandatory weekly overtime is a common practice for many health care organizations, and it raises a good question: Why is excessive overtime so widespread?
The answer is simple: The health care industry has long been understaffed, and recent changes in health care laws are predicted to make the market even more competitive and the overtime situation even worse.
Health-oriented businesses need qualified nurses to take care of patients, but what do you do when there are not enough nurses to fill the demand? The all-too-frequent solution is to have your existing nurses work a lot of overtime, yet such practices can have a long-term negative impact on your organization.
The American Nursing Association (ANA) defines overtime as hours worked each week that are in excess of a predetermined and agreed upon full-time or part-time schedule. The ANA suggests that the best way to improve the quality of patient care is to eliminate mandatory overtime.
Why exactly is your nurse's overtime so detrimental to the long-term success of your organization?
- Overtime lowers quality of care
Overworked nurses get fatigued and are more prone to making errors.
Such mistakes have been linked to negative patient outcomes such as falls and infections, but also in possible injuries to nurses including needle sticks and physical exhaustion. The ANA also suggests that chronic overtime hours are linked to health problems among nurses such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
One of the biggest problems with overworked nurses is that patients are the first to notice. Yes, excessive overtime is also linked to decreased customer satisfaction, since many patients immediately notice that they are not receiving the care and attention that they need.
One study found that hiring more nurses and reducing overtime hours improved patient experiences and made it less likely that patients would be readmitted to the hospital in the 30 days after being discharged.
- Overtime can be incredibly expensive
In addition to hurting quality of care and reducing patient satisfaction, excessive overtime for nurses can also hurt your organization’s bottom line.
All of those overtime hours cost more than regular full-time hours, which can add up quickly.
Even more importantly, since quality of work decreases the longer people work, your organization is essentially paying a lot more for diminished quality from your tired and overworked nursing staff.
In addition to the direct costs associated with overtime, there are also other long-term costs that need to be considered.
Overworked and stressed out nurses are much more likely to suffer from job burnout – and are even more likely to leave your organization as a result. A certain amount of employee turnover is to be expected in any industry, but it can be particularly costly for health care organizations that face stiff competition and a general shortage of qualified workers.
Minimizing overtime can not only save money in the short-term, but it can also contribute to a healthier, happier workforce, and employees who are more likely to stick around for the long term.
- Excessive overtime makes it difficult to attract new nurses
Having a strong talent brand is important for bringing new nurses to your organization, but this can be difficult if you develop a reputation as an employer that does not put its workers first.
Word-of-mouth is often critical among health care professionals, who often develop strong trust networks with other nurses, doctors, and health workers. If job candidates know that your organization is known for excessive overtime and dissatisfied employees, they are less likely to apply, and even less likely to accept a job offer if other businesses are also hiring.
So, how can you improve your reputation with nurses in your area?
Reducing overtime hours can be good step toward improving your nurse retention, boosting your talent brand, and ultimately attracting the best nurses to your business. One study found that eliminating or just minimizing overtime hours led to improve job satisfaction and better nurse retention.
Lowering overtime hours usually means hiring more nurses, which can be challenging considering staffing shortages in many areas. Take a serious look at your current hiring process to determine if you are using the most effective techniques such as resume screening, automated reference checking and online interview debriefings to speed up hiring and bring the best employees onboard as quickly as possible.