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Impact of recurrent changes in the work environment on nurses’ psychological well-being and sickness absence

Authors

  • Rik Verhaeghe MSc RN,

  • Peter Vlerick PhD,

  • Paul Gemmel PhD,

  • Georges Van Maele PhD,

  • Guy De Backer MD PhD


Rik Verhaeghe,
Faculty of Economics and Business Administration,
Department of Management Information,
Operations Management and Technology Policy,
Ghent University, Hoveniersberg 24,
B-9000 Ghent, Belgium.
E-mail: rik.verhaeghe@ugent.be

Abstract

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study of how the occurrence and appraisal of recurrent changes in the work environment of hospital nurses affect psychological well-being (i.e. job satisfaction, eustress and distress) and absence through illness.

Background.  Many researchers have demonstrated the impact of major organizational changes on employees’ psychological well-being, but only a few have focused on the permanent consequences in work conditions. In a contemporary healthcare setting, an increased number of recurrent operational changes has become a normal characteristic of nurses’ work environment. Specific work situations have frequently been associated with occupational stress, whereas employees’ appraisal of recurrent changes as stressors and their relation to psychological well-being and health outcomes (i.e. sickness absence) have been dismissed.

Methods.  A cross-sectional questionnaire survey was conducted in 2003 with 2094 Registered Nurses in 10 general hospitals. Logistic regressions were used to investigate the impact on psychological well-being and prospectively measured rates of sickness absence (frequency and duration).

Results.  The occurrence of changes in the work environment (in the past 6 months) had had a negative impact on staff psychological well-being. Nurses who had been confronted with changes scored statistically significantly higher for distress. Changes appraised as threatening were negatively related to job satisfaction and eustress, and positively related to distress and sickness absence (frequency and duration). Changes appraised as challenging were positively related to job satisfaction and eustress but had no impact on distress and sickness absence.

Conclusion.  Future research should take into consideration the impact of the occurrence and appraisal of recurrent changes in the work environment of healthcare employees (i.e. Registered Nurses) on psychological well-being and sickness absence. This should also be considered by managers when dealing with these nursing workforce issues.

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