Subtle cues: Qualitative elicitation of signs of capacity strain in the hospital workplace

Dana M. Womack, Nancy N. Vuckovic, Linsey M. Steege, Deborah H. Eldredge, Michelle R. Hribar, Paul N. Gorman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Through everyday care experiences, nurses develop expertise in recognition of capacity strain in hospital workplaces. Through qualitative interview, experienced nurses identify common activity changes and adaptive work strategies that may signal an imbalance between patient demand and service supply at the bedside. Activity change examples include nurse helping behaviors across patient assignments, increased volume of nurse calls from patient rooms, and decreased presence of staff at the nurses' station. Adaptive work strategies encompass actions taken to recruit resources, move work in time, reduce work demands, or reduce thoroughness of task performance. Nurses’ knowledge of perceptible signs of strain provides a foundation for future exploration and development of real-time indicators of capacity strain in hospital-based work systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102893
JournalApplied Ergonomics
StatePublished - Nov 2019


  • Capacity strain
  • Nursing
  • Socio-technical systems
  • Strategies
  • Workload

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)


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