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UW-Eau Claire Professor to Research How Job Burnout Affects Nurses' Safety

RELEASED: Sept. 17, 2008

Dr. Jonathon Halbesleben
Dr. Jonathon Halbesleben

EAU CLAIRE — Dr. Jonathon Halbesleben, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire assistant professor of management and marketing, has received a three-year grant for $300,000 from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health to research how job burnout and procedural shortcuts affect nurses' safety on the job.

The grant, offered by NIOSH, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is intended to attract researchers to investigate issues of worker safety, Halbesleben said.

Halbesleben will survey about 600 nurses at two different times at Veteran's Administration hospitals in the Upper Midwest. The first survey will look at the level of burnout the nurses' exhibit and the amount of workarounds — or deviations from normal procedures — used by them. In the second survey, Halbesleben will look at the number and severity of injuries that occurred from the time of the first survey to the second. He will use the data to determine the relationship, if any, between burnout, workarounds and work safety.

Halbesleben became interested in the topic while conducting research at the School of Medicine at University of Missouri. Through that research he learned health care, in particular nursing, is one of the few industries where work-related injuries are increasing rather than decreasing.

With changes to the health system, patient loads have increased, Halbesleben said of nursing workloads. The severity of the illnesses of patients has increased while the time to perform nursing procedures has decreased, he said. These changes have led to job burnout and, indirectly, to the increased use of workarounds or skipping steps in the protocol of procedures in an effort to get things done faster, he said.

"Burnout and workarounds are a consequence of how the health care system has changed in recent years," Halbesleben said. "If burnout and workarounds are related to increased injuries we need to address these and reduce injuries. My single study won't get us there, but it's a move in the right direction."

Funding early career researchers in the hope they will become long-term researchers is one of the goals of the NIOSH grants, said Halbesleben, noting this is his first large grant award. "It's a way to attract people to do this type of research," he said of the grant.

Because NIOSH wants to encourage long-term research, the grant also funds professional development. Grant recipients can do mentorships to gain additional expertise in areas related to their research, Halbesleben said.

"I have expertise in worker burnout, but I want to develop more expertise in occupational injuries," said Halbesleben. "One of my mentors is at the University of Minnesota in the Occupational Injury Prevention Research Training Program, where I am taking part in a doctoral seminar on occupational safety. It's a unique experience, almost like doing post doctoral work."

In addition to his own professional development, the grant will allow Halbesleben to hire a student to work on the research project.

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KH/JB

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