The Business Case for Reducing Nurse Burnout in Hospitals

nurses illustration

Reducing nurse burnout is a multi-million dollar opportunity for hospitals.

A sharp reduction in patient care coupled with a sharp increase in nurse turnover are the two most expensive consequences of nurse burnout, the impacts of which costs hospitals millions of dollars each year.

This financial challenge for hospitals has only been exacerbated by  COVID-19 which dramatically increased the rate of nurse burnout in nearly every hospital throughout the United States.

As a result, reducing nurse burnout will be an integral part of financial recovery for hospitals in the post-pandemic market.

In this post, you’ll discover just how expensive burnout’s hidden costs are and subsequently the cost-saving incentives for reducing the syndrome among your nursing staff. Plus, learn the early warning signs and why it’s crucial to catch burnout in its beginning stages.

What is Nurse Burnout?

A nurse doesn’t suddenly wake up one morning burned out because burnout doesn’t just happen. Instead, burnout is the final stage in a long, slow process of exhaustion.

Average rate of burnout throughout nursing field. Data from “Nurses’ Widespread Job Dissatisfaction, Burnout, And Frustration With Health Benefits Signal Problems For Patient Care.”

Burnout is a psychological response to chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed.

It’s characterized by emotional, mental and physical exhaustion, depersonalization, and a low sense of professional achievement.

Although burnout is a worldwide occupational phenomenon impacting every industry, it’s especially prevalent in nursing because of the profession’s high emotional and physical demands.

Nurses experiencing burnout struggle to cope; as a result, they may begin displaying negative attitudes toward their job, their patients and their co-workers.

Consequently, burned-out nursing staff can permeate an entire hospital impacting everything from clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction to turnover rates and recruiting costs.

The Cost of Nurse Burnout for Hospitals


Labor share of total hospital expenses has been increasing for the last decade, and factors like a tightening labor market and high turnover are accelerating this trend.

Currently, hospitals are spending upwards of $6.9 million in turnover and recruiting costs annually.

The price of replacing just one clinical nurse is between $40,300 and $64,000, according to the 2019 National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing report.

In addition, the latest research suggests that even before COVID-19, burnout was the leading reason for nurse turnover at hospitals.

Adding fuel to the fire is that hospitals are struggling to retain experienced and novice nurses alike.

It’s estimated that 17.5% of nurses leave their first job within the first year, and an astounding 33.5% leave within the first two years.

Meanwhile, seasoned nurses suffering from burnout are taking early retirement, going part-time, or transferring to non-patient care.

Nurse Burnout & Patient Satisfaction

Imagine the smiling, quick-witted, highly engaged and empathetic nurse growing increasingly aloof and annoyed with patients. Their empathy fades to frustration, their quick-wit and warm smile traded in for disgruntled silence.

Nurses heavily impact patient satisfaction because they’re on the front line of patient care.

Nurse burnout negatively impacts patient care and engagement, both of which have steep financial consequences. The direst of which is alienating patients.

The loss of one patient costs hospitals an average of $506,755.

Unfortunately, dissatisfied patients often take their families with them. It’s estimated that the loss of lifetime household healthcare expenditure cost hospitals over $1.5 million.

Poor patient engagement leads to poor patient satisfaction scores and increased complaints from patients, families and guests.

Given enough time, these challenges will extend beyond the walls of a hospital and begin to impact its brand and employer reputation.

Early Signs of Nurse Burnout

What’s more alarming than burnout’s impact on hospitals? Its ability to go unnoticed.

Because burnout’s earliest warning signs are subtle, many hospitals fail to identify them. Adding to this challenge is that burnout symptoms — anxiety, depersonalization and feelings of hopelessness, failure and self-doubt — may only become apparent to others once they’ve begun driving highly undesirable workplace behavior.

Nevertheless, catching burnout in its beginning phases is a highly effective way for hospitals to mitigate its most devastating impacts.

One of the best ways to catch burnout before it starts wreaking havoc is by training nurse clinical managers to identify the eight signs of early-stage burnout.

While early detection may pose a challenge for hospitals, the financial rewards make it a solid investment.


  • Hospitals have a vested interest in mitigating the devastating impact burnout has on their organizations, patients and nurses’ personal lives.
  • Nurse burnout diminishes patient care and engagement, leading to an increase in alienated patients. Just one alienated patient can costs hospitals upwards of $500,000.
  • Hospitals that want to reduce nurse burnout will achieve faster results by identifying burnout in its earliest stages.
  • Speed is of the essence because nurse burnout is at an all-time high, and the impact this will have on hospitals moving forward cannot be overstated.

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