Photo by SJ Objio on Unsplash

Are you too busy to take care of your own healthcare needs? If so, there is a cost to your health.

As fall begins, did you have an opportunity to take paid time off (PTO) this summer? Were you able to be guilt free and disconnected from your leadership responsibilities? What did you do to focus on your health and well-being? If you used your PTO, did you return feeling relaxed, connected in your personal life, and ready to perform better at work? 

In our monthly Synova calls, we identified a trend that many leaders felt guilty about leaving their teams for PTO. Time off is important for all employees and leaders because it  provides a host of benefits like mindfulness, heart health, reduced stress, improved sleep and cognitive function. With the high demands of nurse leaders, prioritizing time off is essential to continue providing exceptional leadership to your team.

Research on chronic stress

In November 2021, Synova Associates LLC and the National Perinatal Information Center embarked on a research study to better understand and explore chronic stress among perinatal and neonatal nursing leaders. The preliminary data revealed that perinatal and neonatal leaders are experiencing high-stress levels and that stress negatively impacts their health. Leaders reported symptoms such as:  

  • Stomach aches 
  • Headaches 
  • Sleeplessness 
  • Chest pain and tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness 
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating 

When you see this list of symptoms, you may notice that you experience one or some of these symptoms daily. At the same time, this should not be taken lightly. Chronic stress creates hormonal imbalances that can lead to hypertension, atherosclerosis, anxiety, addiction, depression, and obesity. 

When have you paused and taken a health inventory? Or visited with your provider to assess how your nurse leader role impacts your overall health? Research shows that effective stress management techniques such as dedicated time off will improve your performance and happiness in the workplace.

nurse at computer

The Complexity of Nurse Leader Roles

Today’s nurse leaders are responsible for a multitude of things like twenty-four-seven staffing, training, financial management, high-quality patient outcomes, safety, and patient satisfaction. In speaking with Synova nurse leaders about why they haven’t used PTO here are two common responses: 

“I have a ton of PTO accumulated, but I haven’t taken a week off since as far back as I can remember. Nurse leaders are always checking back in to see how things are going in the units. And, it’s easy now to be connected even when you are ‘off,’ at night, or if I’m out for the day. I worry I will miss something, and then the guilt sets in.”

“My team realizes that nurse leaders are people, and we need breaks too. Unfortunately, due to staffing issues, I have not been able to take time off this year. As a leader I want to set my team up for success and ensure that they have the time off and resources they need to do their job.”

Nurse leaders have a difficult role in the healthcare landscape. Often nurse leaders have to balance the needs of front line staff while supporting goals of the organization. Providing nurse leaders with education, research, and recovery is how Synova continues to help perinatal and neonatal nurse leaders across the country to combat stress. Additionally, here are five techniques to help you manage leadership responsibilities:

  • Develop a shared leadership on-call schedule that gives chain of command coverage and lets you detach.
  • Implement creative staffing models using unlicensed personnel and nurse externs to decompress the unit staffing demands and shortages.
  • Crosstrain nurses within the perinatal and neonatal space to help with peak and trough census times.
  • Build depth in your leadership team to allow adequate breaks and recovery.
  • Provide mentoring and support to new leaders with less than one year of experience as they are most likely to leave leadership.

White paper coming Fall 2022

A Synova white paper discussing chronic stress, specifically in perinatal and neonatal nurse leaders, is coming soon. We look forward to igniting a discussion and sharing what we have learned regarding the unique stressors of perinatal and neonatal nurse leaders.

Call to action

Recently, Lori Gunther, Synova CEO, had a conversation with a Synova nurse leader who said: “Lori, I knew I wasn’t feeling well in April when I saw you. I kept explaining it away as exhaustion from the pandemic and the amount of work I was doing. Months later when I finally went to the doctor, I was indeed sick. I ignored my own nursing expertise and that was just devastating. We need to listen to our bodies and take care of ourselves in the same way we care for our staff and our patients. My request to each nurse leader is: if you have been putting off your doctor’s visits,  mammograms, or colonoscopies, schedule it! Make your health a priority.” Now more than ever we must ensure we have both the time and the well being to enjoy all the hard work we do each day. 

Please join us for the 2022 NICU Leadership Forum

Attend the 2022 NICU Leadership Forum April 3 – 7, 2022 in Naples, Florida to learn important strategies in building trust within your team.