8 VS 12: 6 safety Guidelines For Scheduling Nursing Shifts At Your Practice

women on night shift

The ideal nursing work schedule is a hotly debated topic in the nursing community. Registered nurses hours in the past were often made up of 8-hour shifts. But these days, most nurses work 12-hour shifts.

Many facilities and nurses favor working 12-hours for many reasons. Yet, advocates of 8-hour shifts tout facts about the lack of effectiveness and safety for shifts that stretch longer than 10 hours. 

There are benefits and risks for both nursing shifts. Read on to get the inside scoop of 6 of the main considerations to think about when creating your nursing work schedule. 

1. Likelihood of Overtime on Nursing Shifts

A 12-hour shift may not be a 12-hour shift. Regardless of what the nursing work schedule may say, there are many times when nurses work overtime because of patient needs or staffing demands. This extra time may or may not be voluntary.

If there is a shortage of nurses on duty or if the facility size or patient needs require overtime, most nurses feel they have no choice but to work past their scheduled end of the shift. 

Keep in mind that there is no work-hour policy for registered nurses in the US (unlike resident physicians and jobs in other industries where a policy does exist).

So, while on paper, the 12-hour shift may look great, in reality, the shifts can turn into 13 or more hours.

If you are set on 12-hour shifts, you need to look at your data carefully. Your data will help you determine what shifts often result in overtime work. Perhaps there’s a certain time of day or day of the week that regularly dips into overtime.

Once you identify those areas, you can find a way to adjust the scheduling so that nurses aren’t having to work past 12 hours. 

2. Consider the Possibility of Errors

Nursing can be physically and mentally grueling and exhausting work. The strain of long shifts often results in errors.

A large-scale study recently found that the length of a shift, overtime and the number of hours worked in a week resulted in errors.

The likelihood of making an error increased with longer work hours and was three times higher when shifts lasted 12.5 hours or more. Also, working more than 40 hours a week significantly increased the risk of making errors. 

3. The Cost of Injuries and Burnout 

One of the benefits of moving to 8-hour shifts is that you reduce your risk for injuries and burnout. 

When RNs work long hours, they are more likely to suffer from workplace injuries like needle sticks and strains. Of course, this is due to sleep deprivation and slower reaction times as a result.

Nurses who work 10+ hour shifts are 2.5 times more likely to experience burnout according to a study by the National Institute of Nursing Research.

Employee turnover cuts into your profits. The cost of hiring and training a new nurse is much higher than the cost of keeping one on board.

4. Think About Patient Satisfaction

Registered nurses are vital to get patients the medical care they need. Without RNs on staff, patients may die from a lack of medical attention and care. 

One of the benefits of having 12-hour shifts is that there is less turnover for patients. Yet, a tired RN who is going on 13 hours of work isn’t going to be providing the best possible care for his or her patients.

Your patients may prefer slightly more turnover in order to get excellent care during their stay.

Yet, 12 hours shifts reduce the handoffs between nurses. That mean fewer reports to fill out and fewer chances for miscommunication and possible errors. 

5. Consider Health, Work-Life Balance and Morale

Longer shifts can negatively impact nurses health. When registered nurses hours are long, there is a higher risk for health issues such as musculoskeletal disorders, gastric ulcers, obesity, and cancer among others.

On the other hand, working longer shifts means that nurses spend fewer days and less time overall commuting to work. 

Longer shifts also offer nurses more flexibility. They work long hours but also get longer stretches of time at home. 

When it comes to work-life balance, there is a case for both 8 and 12 hours shifts. 8-hour shifts mean that staff can be home for several hours each day.

They may be able to have a family meal together or be home for bedtime for kids each night. On the other hand, 12 hours shifts allow nurses to have four-day weekends. 

A 12-hour shift means flexible scheduling for your nurses. This reduces absenteeism, increases retention and boosts morale.

6. Ease of Scheduling

From a management view, longer shifts are easier to work with. You just need to schedule two shifts a day. If you have shorter shifts, there’s one more shift to schedule.

With shorter hours, you may have more variety of start and end times. It can get confusing for both staff and management. 

Make sure to use an employee time clock to help keep track of employees work hours.

Final Thoughts on Nursing Shifts 

Thanks for reading about the pros and cons of 8 and 12-hour nurse work schedules.

Of course, the best option for nursing shifts will be different for each organization. Yet, we hope these 6 considerations help you think about how your shifts will affect your staff, your patients and your bottom line.

Now, check out our other blog posts for more articles on the business of health care, legal, technology, and construction.

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