Experiencing professional burnout

Jack* is an Associate Nurse Unit Manager in a busy critical care unit, who lives and breathes his job. This is the story of his burnout and recovery.

Meet Jack

Jack has worked full time in a busy critical care unit since completing his graduate year and Graduate Diploma in Critical Care Nursing. He was recently promoted to Associate Nurse Unit Manager (ANUM) – a pivotal point in his career.

Jack’s colleagues describe him as highly driven, friendly, helpful, and a team person. Jack describes being a nurse is an important part of his identity.

Jack takes on additional shifts to fill in roster gaps, regularly works overtime and really wants to prove himself as a credible ANUM. Jack is starting to feel very stressed as a result of the demands of his new job.

Jack is thrilled to be part of the leadership team and offering his skills, knowledge and support to his colleagues. He prides himself on his accountability and his ability to manage all types of situations. He uses a calm approach in emergencies, to resolve conflict, to avert risks and act as a role model to the new graduates.

Jack gains a huge amount of confidence from positive feedback from other ANUMs and his NUM, as well as his ability to lead his team to provide a high standard of care.

Work-life unbalance

Jack’s colleagues notice that he is staying later and later, taking on more duties, turning up to work earlier and even coming into work on his days off.

When the Nurse Unit Manager approaches Jack about his additional hours, he reassures her it is temporary while he adapts to his new role. She encourages Jack to take some time off, as he has accrued six weeks of annual leave and four months of sick leave. He agrees to take some leave in a few months once things settled down.

It is now about 12 months since Jack became an ANUM, and he has still not taken any leave. He is working double shifts twice a week.

Signs of burnout

One afternoon Jack is working with a new graduate, Sally. Sally asks Jack to help her sign in a patient’s DDs from pharmacy. Jack has had a busy morning, but agrees to help. He rushes to the medication room to find that Sally is not there. Jack starts to feel irritable and annoyed and taken for granted.

With rising anger Jack enters the nurse's station, where he finds Sally chatting with another nurse. He accuses Sally of being lazy and not “taking her job seriously”, says he is appalled at her lack of accountability, blames her for compromising patient care and neglecting to manage her patient’s pain in a timely manner.

Sally feels emotional, exposed and embarrassed that Jack has “told her off” in front of other colleagues. She knows this is out of character for Jack, but is too frightened to speak to him about his behaviour. She speaks to the NUM in confidence about the incident.

Communication and support – managing staff

Jack feels relieved to speak to his NUM, as he thinks his behaviour was justified. He becomes defensive when he hears of the impact his behaviour has had on Sally. He doesn’t agree that he was unreasonable, as this was about patient care, accountability, being responsible for running the unit and the actions of his team.

Jack is asked to speak freely about what had been happening – his NUM values Jack and wants to support him in his new role and reduce his stress. She identifies that Jack is suffering from possible burnout. He confirms that he is emotionally exhausted, feeling frustrated that some members of his team are not meeting his standards, and isn’t sleeping enough. His relationships with his colleagues are strained and they feel reluctant to ask him for help for fear of him becoming agitated.


Jack is counselled by the NUM and encouraged to seek support. She tells him about the EAP program and Nurse & Midwife Support. She asks Jack to take some leave immediately to rest, get support and think about strategies for managing his high expectations and frustrations.

The NUM phones Nurse & Midwife Support to discuss what she can do to support Jack.

Contact us

Our service provides free and confidential support 24/7, to nurses, midwives and students Australia wide. If you would like to speak to someone call 1800 667 877, or you can request support via email.

If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through accessing support.

*Name changed