Rising Nursing Overtime: 7 Strategies to Reduce It

female nursing professional in blue scrubs checking time holding watch

The current nursing shortage makes avoiding overtime difficult — a challenge familiar to most employers.

12% of nurses are working mandatory overtime, while almost half work voluntary overtime. However, this is only a short-term fix. Relying on overtime may solve immediate problems, but often leads to issues and costs down the road.

So, how can we minimize overtime and its risks? In this detailed guide, uncover why facilities implement nursing overtime, the threats involved, and seven healthcare staffing strategies to reduce or eliminate it.

Reasons Facilities Implement Nursing Overtime

In times of heightened demand and decreased capacity, many facilities depend on utilizing overtime for their core staff and nurses to prevent disruptions. Especially during the skyrocketing nursing shortage, facilities often rely on overtime to combat:

Surges in Demand

Effective healthcare staffing means being flexible. Facilities often turn to nursing overtime to swiftly manage unexpected patient surges.  In the short-term, this strategy is intended cover gaps during peak periods without the delay of hiring and onboarding new staff.

Reduced Care Capacity

No matter what’s going on in the world, facilities need nurses staffed and ready. As such, facilities may rely on nursing overtime to maintain continuity during high-workload periods and ensures uninterrupted care in times of reduced capacity.

Rising Staff Shortages

It’s no secret that facilities are grappling with a severe nursing shortage. Last year, 79% of surveyed nurses reported understaffed units. This puts immense pressure on the remaining staff, forcing facilities to depend on overtime to maintain quality care.

Risks of Nursing Overtime

While nursing overtime is common in healthcare staffing, it still comes with widespread, costly risks for employers, from increased burnout and turnover costs, to growing ethical concerns:

Physical and Mental Strain

A 2023 survey showed that two in three RNs feel burnt out during the majority of their shifts. Extended work hours increase stress, burnout, turnover, and potential health issues among nursing staff.

Studies show prolonged overtime correlates with poor health habits and higher risks of fatigue-related errors, affecting staff well-being and patient safety.

Increased Risk of Errors

Fatigued, burnt-out nurses are more likely to make healthcare errors. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), excess hours can triple the rate of errors, including critical medication mistakes, falls, or inaccurate records. What’s more, one study showed that nursing overtime significantly increased the chance of near-miss alerts.

When nurses don’t have the time to take care of themselves, they struggle to take care of their patients, too.

Higher Turnover

Research shows both new and experienced nurses often quit due to:

  • Stressful work environments
  • Poor leadership
  • Low healthcare staffing levels

It’s no secret that turnover is expensive for healthcare facilities. A key risk factor of relying on overtime, losing nurses to burnout and fatigue also means losing facility revenue.

Unnecessary Costs

Moreover, federal law mandates paying nurses and healthcare staff time and a half for overtime hours.

Even if this initially seems like the cost-effective route, sustained overtime escalates labor expenses, reduces staff productivity, and increases turnover rates, straining finances.

The average cost of turnover for a staff RN can range from $40,200 to $64,500, according to Becker’s Hospital Review. In fact, every percentage increase or decrease in RN turnover will save — or cost — the average hospital over $380,000 annually.

Risk of Unethical Mandatory Overtime

Healthcare facilities may recall bipartisan proposals in 2020 to limit mandatory nursing overtime. In March 2024, this proposal, the Nurse Overtime and Patient Safety Act, was reintroduced to prevent nurse burnout. If enacted, facilities nationwide must comply, encouraging proactive implementation of healthcare staffing solutions beyond overtime.

Key Strategies to Reduce or Eliminate Nursing Overtime

If not managed properly, overtime can become a liability instead of an asset. It can hurt your staffing levels, increase costs, and even intensify errors. Instead, leaders can shift to more flexible healthcare staffing models that support your facility’s needs and your staff’s needs:

Tracking Overtime

Start by understanding nursing overtime and it’s impact on your facility. Use technology to monitor and address its causes effectively, focusing on key metrics to identify when and where additional help is necessary.

Hiring Contingency Workers

Using temporary workers like PRN or per diem nurses also helps reduces overtime costs. Such workers help fill short-term staffing gaps due to vacations, increased patient loads, or unexpected absences, maintaining adequate staffing levels during critical periods without solely relying on permanent staff.

Despite initial cost concerns, strategically deploying skilled temporary staff supports a healthier workplace for full-time employees.

Utilizing Telehealth and Remote Care

The rise of telehealth poses an opportunity for facilities and staff members to strike the balance they both seek. This not only saves on staffing costs but also gives nurses and clinicians more flexible schedules, improving overall efficiency in patient care.

Implementing Team-Based Care Delivery

Flexible healthcare staffing, like team nursing, improves communication and collaboration, allowing teams to accomplish more with fewer resources.

The team nursing model in healthcare assigns groups of nurses to collaboratively manage patient care based on their skills and roles.

Hiring Travel Nurses When Needed

Healthcare facilities rely on travel nurses to fill staffing gaps during busy periods. These RNs move between locations and work on temporary contracts through healthcare staffing partners, like CareerStaff. This provides temporary relief, reducing overtime, and supporting core staff during absences or high patient volumes.

Establishing a Float Pool

A float pool in nurse staffing refers to a group of nurses who are not assigned to specific units but are available to work in various departments as needed.

Trained for diverse patient care roles, float pool nurses offer flexibility to adjust staffing levels according to patient demand, ensuring adequate coverage across units and reducing regular staff overtime.

Improving Scheduling

Finally, utilize advanced technology and direct feedback to create balanced schedules. Effective scheduling maintains optimal staffing levels without overburdening core team members. What’s more, such strategies help to promote staff work-life balance and prevent burnout.

Reduce Nursing Overtime with Flexible Solutions

With rising patient demand and nursing shortages, reducing overtime is challenging for today’s facilities. Partnering with CareerStaff offers expert-managed solutions, specializing in sourcing qualified clinical staff, and managing payroll, benefits, and compliance to optimize patient care.

Contact us today to see how CareerStaff’s award-winning services can enhance your healthcare staffing strategy or submit a quick staffing request now.