The 24/7 nature of health care means the need for night shift nurses will never wane, and many nurses find the evening shift to be an appealing, stable option. For managers, the challenge lies in effectively managing your night shift staff, even with limited interaction.
In this article, we will uncover nurse self-management strategies and how managers can support nurses and optimise their shifts for the better.
So, what constitutes a night shift?
Although the length and times of a shift may vary by employer, most night shifts last between eight and 12 hours and fall between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. However, the unpredictable nature of nursing can sometimes cause scheduled shift times and lengths to fluctuate. Additionally, some nurses choose to rotate between overnight and daytime shifts.
Before we can highlight the challenges and suggestions to improve the night shift team, let’s understand what working the night shift entails and what your staff need to do to maintain a good work-life balance.
The Challenges of Working Night Shift
Though there are several benefits, there are some drawbacks to the night shift – it’s not for everyone.
Working at night opposes the body’s natural circadian rhythms. As a result, some night shift nurses have difficulty achieving consistent, sufficient, and satisfying sleep. Even if there is substantial time to sleep during the day, the body often finds it difficult to fall asleep during hours when the sun is out. Plus, obligations during the day, such as childcare or appointments during business hours, can keep night shift nurses from getting adequate rest during their hours off.
If you don’t get good rest while working the night shift, you may encounter adverse effects, many of which can make your role as a nurse more difficult. According to the Sleep Foundation, a lack of adequate rest can lead to:
- Slow thinking. Slow thinking can affect your ability to do your job properly, and quick thinking can mean the difference between life and death in some health care situations.
- Reduced attention span. The inability to focus can make simple tasks harder to complete, leading to added stress during a shift.
- Irritability, stress, and anxiety. If left unchecked, these mood changes can lead to long-term physical and emotional issues.
- Worsened memory. A memory decline can jeopardize the safety of patients and professional success.
- Poor decision-making. Fast decision-making is a pivotal skill in nursing. Preserving your ability to synthesize information quickly to make a potentially life-saving call is critical.
Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to cardiovascular disease, hormonal abnormalities, and mental health disorders, among other issues. Other reported disadvantages that arise from working night shifts include insomnia, increased risk of dangerous driving due to drowsiness, and a strain on familial relationships.
Despite these risks and challenges, many nurses prefer the night shift because it helps them maintain flexibility in their personal lives while positively impacting their patients’ well-being. Ultimately, working a night shift can be a rewarding experience for many nurses when managed correctly.
Tips for Night Shift Nursing
Ensuring that you have the support and self-care techniques to handle night shift nursing is key to thriving during the night shift. Follow these tips to keep yourself in peak shape while working the night shift:
- Create a schedule and stick to it, planning activities that support healthy sleep habits.
- Find ways to relieve stress to ensure that you get the best quality sleep possible.
- Exercise often. Even just a walk can help your ability to sleep and decrease your stress levels.
- Continue to pursue social activity and do things that bring you joy.
- Maintain a positive outlook and take advantage of the benefits of working the night shift.
To thrive as a night shift nurse, it’s vital to plan and ensure restful sleep. Now that we have covered what the night shift entails for nurses, let’s take a look at the challenges and tips to manage your night shift staff effectively.
The Do’s and Don’ts for Managing Your Night Shift Staff
As a nursing manager or unit manager, you should strike a balance between being supportive and visible to your staff whilst maintaining good communication between both shifts to keep unit morale up and well. The last thing you want is your night staff feeling isolated and disengaged.
If left unchecked you could end up with very different cultures between the same unit and potentially differences in practice. At worst, it can lead to conflict between shifts that destroy unit morale.
The following are some dos and don’ts to consider in leading the night shift:
- Keep in regular contact with the administrative supervisors who work nights to obtain their perspective on the functioning of your unit on that tour. Ask them to contact you if they see problems that you need to be aware of.
- Schedule yourself to work all or part of the night shift quarterly. Let the staff know you will be working and are there to listen to their concerns.
- Establish some protocols for what type of situations occur on nights that you want to be immediately notified about.
- Demonstrate gratitude for nurses who work the night shift and recognize the inconvenience and sacrifices they make in their personal lives.
- Monitor how staffing is done to cover night shifts to ensure that staff can get adequate rest between tours.
- Arrange periodic huddles with your night tour staff to communicate policy and practice changes and/or establish a unified communication group.
- Maintain ongoing contact with the night charge nurses for their input into unit decisions.
- Evaluate on an ongoing basis the workload on nights relative to admissions, discharges, transfers and workload.
- Ensure that you have night shift nurses who can serve as strong and positive preceptors for new graduates placed on the shift.
- Be proactive in managing any conflict that you observe between the shifts.
- Encourage healthy habits and be an advocate for night shifts in having access to cafeteria food and other amenities.
- Assume that the workload on nights is easier.
- Ignore signs of extreme staff fatigue or sleep deprivation and whether it is safe for a staff member to drive home.
- Change policies or practices on the unit without input from the night shift.
- Let practices like bedside rounding be discarded on the night shift.
- Listen to gossip from your day shift staff about what happens on nights without involving the night shift staff.
- Place new graduates on the night shift unless there are experienced staff to coach them.
- Lower your hiring standards because you are desperate to fill a night shift position.
- Destroy your personal life by responding to regular texts at night or coming in early every day to handle the night shift – and then staying late.
- Tolerate a high level of absenteeism on nights.
- Forget to include your night shift staff in disaster and crisis training as many of these incidents occur during the night shift.
- Allow night staff to opt out of self-governance initiatives.
At most 24/7 units, between 30 and 40 per cent of your staff will work the night shift. Without active collaboration with their manager, they can easily feel they work in a different hospital than the day shift. It is your job to ensure this does not happen.
Night shift staff play a unique role in units to keep patients safe while the rest of the staff sleeps. They need to feel valued and respected for the work that they do.
If you are looking to source the best nursing staff to join your night or day shift teams then you should consider reaching out to Grey’s nursing agency to help find the right employee to join your team.
Grey’s has over 40 years of experience in the recruitment industry and specialises in sourcing the best and most qualified staff for roles within nursing countrywide. Contact us today to learn more about our nursing recruitment.