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The Problem of Burnout in Nursing


Burnout is among the essential human resources issues in nursing. Nurses experience burnout due to high workload, poor working conditions, lack of support structures, and many other factors. However, research surrounding the issue shows that some leadership and human resources management strategies can be useful in reducing burnout. Researching and applying evidence-based human resources strategies allows facilities, HR managers, and nurse leaders to address the issue of burnout, thus improving job satisfaction of nurses and enhancing patient outcomes. In particular, transformational leadership could be part of a useful strategy for addressing burnout, as it assists in achieving organizational change through motivating and inspiring workers (Giddens, 2018). The present paper will seek to outline and explain the effects of transformational leadership on nurse burnout, as well as identify qualities found in transformational leaders that can aid nurses in becoming better at leadership. The main argument of the paper is that nursing leaders have the ability to reduce burnout amongst nurses by introducing administrative changes, offering support structures, and promoting initiatives that address primary staff concerns.

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Review of Literature

Burnout is one of many issues that are evident in the nursing profession, but it probably has the most impact on nurses and patients. The main reasons for nurse burnout are nurses’ lack of motivation and their high workload (Holdren, Paul III, & Coustasse, 2015). Indeed, hospitals and other medical institutions often experience staff shortages, which affects the volume of work of each staff member. Moreover, nurses often work long shifts and have a full variety of tasks to complete, which contributes to burnout. The lack of motivation, on the other hand, can be due to inadequate leadership and dissatisfaction with working conditions.

Burnout leads to a number of serious consequences, including emotional exhaustion, family deterioration, and personal deterioration (Suñer-Soler et al., 2014). Burnout can also lead nurses to give up the profession or skipping work shifts, thus contributing to staff shortages and burnout among other health professionals (Suñer-Soler et al., 2014). Therefore, leaders in nursing should seek to address both causes of burnout effectively in order to reduce the unwanted impact of burnout on nurses and patients.

Leadership is often seen as one of the ways to address persistent workplace issues. The subject of leadership in nursing is complicated, mainly because there is no single evidence-based approach that applies to all situations (Scully, 2015). There are various leadership styles that can be used depending on the organization’s goals and needs, such as autocratic, democratic, transactional, transformational, strategic, and several others. The choice of a particular leadership style could have a critical effect on the organization’s success, as it influences factors such as staff motivation, job satisfaction, retention, and career development.

Transformational leadership is suitable for organizations planning a change process, as it inspires employees to work towards achieving a shared vision (Hutchinson & Jackson, 2013). Transformational leadership has a significant impact on motivation, employee engagement, and workplace climate. Moreover, transformational leadership assists in reducing the effect of internal regulatory processes on burnout, and can thus help in addressing the issue (Shi, Zhang, Xu, Liu, & Miao, 2014).


Research suggests that leadership styles have a significant effect on burnout. In particular, studies show that positive leadership styles contribute to motivation, empowerment, and work conditions, which is why they assist in reducing burnout (Laschinger, Wong, & Grau, 2013; Van Bogaert, Kowalski, Weeks, Van Heusden, & Clarke, 2013). There are also leadership styles that can predict nurse burnout by negatively affecting work conditions and motivation. For instance, autocratic and laissez-faire leadership could contribute to burnout, as leaders using these styles often fail to provide sufficient support structures for nurses (Giltinane, 2013). Leadership styles that are most beneficial for organizations struggling with nurse burnout include authentic leadership, ethical leadership, and transformational leadership.

Transformational leadership style impacts burnout in different ways. First of all, transformational leadership creates a positive working environment and enhances work characteristics, such as the nature of work, reward schemes, and training opportunities (Lewis & Cunningham, 2016). Secondly, transformational leadership results in increased employee motivation and engagement, thus diminishing one of the critical causes of burnout (Madathil, Heck, & Schuldberg, 2014). Lastly, transformational leaders create a shared vision that inspires employees to be more productive while also coordinating the management’s efforts in improving working conditions. As noted by Ahmad, Adi, Noor, Rahman, and Yushuang (2013), transformational leaders are able to communicate “the values, vision, and mission of their organization in order to motivate the employees” (p. 172). This improves communication between the management and the employees while also providing a source of motivation.

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Effective transformational leaders exhibit qualities that assist in building a connection with nurses, promoting a healthy organizational climate, and increasing motivation. They are usually optimistic, forward-looking, creative, proactive, rewarding, and inspiring (Ahmad et al. 2013; Madathil et al., 2014). These qualities of transformational leadership contribute to reducing burnout and can be developed by nurse leaders in order to improve workforce characteristics. On the whole, the impact of transformational leadership on nurse burnout can be profound. Studies show that transformational leadership addresses the main causes of burnout in nurses. On the one hand, it creates a positive working environment and enhancing work characteristics (Lewis & Cunningham, 2016). This could help to address understaffing and improve productivity, thus reducing the overall workload of nurses. On the other hand, transformational leadership creates a shared vision and inspires all employees to contribute to it (Ahmad et al. 2013; Madathil et al., 2014). This aspect of transformational leadership addresses low motivation, thus also contributing to nurses’ emotional condition, productivity, and retention rates.

The present research offers some useful considerations for practice. In particular, it highlights the impact of transformational leadership on nurse burnout, thus supporting the implementation of this leadership style. It is recommended that transformational leadership exhibit qualities that assist in connecting with and inspiring employees, such as proactivity, creativity, and fairness in providing rewards and opportunities. Moreover, nurse leaders should consider improving working conditions to reduce workload and emotional exhaustion among nurses. Finally, to improve motivation, nurse leaders should develop and communicate the organization’s mission, vision, and goals, thus inspiring employees to achieve organizational objectives. This would contribute to the motivation and engagement of employees, thus also preventing and reducing burnout.


Overall, the present research studies the relationship between leadership and burnout in nursing. The results suggest that transformational leadership is efficient in addressing the problem of burnout and outline the key strategies and qualities that can be used to achieve this effect. The strengths of the present research are that it provides practical recommendations based on recent academic evidence, and thus the suggestions listed in the paper are helpful. The limitations, however, include the scope of research and its methodology. Future studies should seek to provide empirical evidence of the relationship between transformational leadership and nurse burnout and increase the scope of work to review the impact of other leadership styles on burnout in greater detail.


Ahmad, A. R., Adi, M. N. M., Noor, H. M., Rahman, A. G. A., & Yushuang, T. (2013). The influence of leadership style on job satisfaction among nurses. Asian Social Science, 9(9), 172-178.

Giddens, J. (2018). Transformational leadership: What every nursing dean should know. Journal of Professional Nursing, 34(2), 117-121.

Giltinane, C. L. (2013). Leadership styles and theories. Nursing Standard, 27(41), 35-39.

Hutchinson, M., & Jackson, D. (2013). Transformational leadership in nursing: Toward a more critical interpretation. Nursing Inquiry, 20, 11-22.

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Laschinger, H. K. S., Wong, C. A., & Grau, A. L. (2013). Authentic leadership, empowerment, and burnout: A comparison in new graduates and experienced nurses. Journal of Nursing Management, 21(3), 541-552.

Lewis, H. S., & Cunningham, C. J. (2016). Linking nurse leadership and work characteristics to nurse burnout and engagement. Nursing Research, 65(1), 13-23.

Madathil, R., Heck, N. C., & Schuldberg, D. (2014). Burnout in psychiatric nursing: Examining the interplay of autonomy, leadership style, and depressive symptoms. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 28(3), 160-166.

Shi, R., Zhang, S., Xu, H., Liu, X., & Miao, D. (2014). Regulatory focus and burnout in nurses: The mediating effect of perception of transformational leadership. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 21(6), 858-867.

Scully, N. (2015). Leadership in nursing: The importance of recognising inherent values and attributes to secure a positive future for the profession. Collegian, 22(4), 439-44.

Suñer-Soler, R., Grau-Martín, A., Flichtentrei, D., Prats, M., Braga, F., Font-Mayolas, S., & Gras, M. E. (2014). The consequences of burnout syndrome among healthcare professionals in Spain and Spanish speaking Latin American countries. Burnout Research, 1(2), 82-89.

Van Bogaert, P., Kowalski, C., Weeks, S. M., & Clarke, S. P. (2013). The relationship between nurse practice environment, nurse work characteristics, burnout and job outcome and quality of nursing care: A cross-sectional survey. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 50(12), 1667-1677.

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