Cultivating positive nursing environments are challenging, but well worth the effort. According to a 2018 Press Ganey report, dissatisfaction with the work environment was the most commonly cited reason expressed by nurses who planned to leave their jobs soon. But when nurses feel valued, supported and respected at work, they are more likely to experience higher rates of job satisfaction, leading to improved quality of care, patient satisfaction and outcomes.
Here’s how to create a positive nursing atmosphere that benefits everyone.
What Does a Healthy Nursing Environment Look Like?
Healthy nursing environments may look different based on the setting, but experts say they all share key similarities. Jenna Liphart Rhoads, Ph.D., RN, CNE, an advisor at NurseTogether, says workplaces can see a huge boost when safe nurse-patient ratios and robust work-life balance policies are enforced. “[It] will increase staff morale and teamwork, increase nurse retention [by decreasing burnout] and increase positive patient outcomes because happy, well-supported nurses have more to give to their patients,” she says.
Safety is critical too. “One element that may be overlooked is the impact of workplace violence on the day-to-day life of the nurse,” says Drew Neckar, MBA, CPP, CHPA, president of Security Advisors Consulting Group. “[R]outine physical and verbal abuse during the course of employment [will] have a major impact on [nurses’] well-being and their ability to effectively care for their patients.”
Healthy work environments are so vital to the well-being of nurses and patients that the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) has outlined six essential standards to help employers build a sustainable culture:
- Skilled communication: Everyone should seek well-rounded communication skills since they are just as important as clinical skills.
- True collaboration: There should be multiple opportunities to share ideas and work together toward a solution.
- Effective decision-making: Nurses should have a say in the matters that affect them, such as policy and care decisions, and be given opportunities to lead.
- Appropriate staffing: Staffing approaches must ensure that patients’ needs and nurses’ competencies are equally matched.
- Meaningful recognition: Employees should receive recognition for their contributions and acknowledge others in the same way.
- Authentic leadership: Leaders should fully demonstrate the characteristics of a healthy work environment and encourage others to do so as well.
What Strategies Can Improve Work Environments for Nurses?
There are many ways employers and nurses can work together to create a positive work environment. Implementing the AACN’s six essential standards is an excellent starting point for organizations seeking to establish a culture of continuous improvement and teamwork. When employees begin to see and feel the benefits, they will be more inclined to continue the change-generating behaviors.
Nurses can also enhance their capacity for positivity by practicing self-care regularly. “As is true in other aspects of life, you cannot pour from an empty cup,” says Liphart Rhoads. “In order for nurses to be able to ‘pour into their patients,’ they, too, need to be filled.” Meditation, exercise or grabbing coffee with a friend once a week can reset your outlook and allow you to approach work with renewed energy and focus. Some employers even offer self-care coaching to help nurses craft personalized strategies.
While everyone’s attitudes and abilities contribute to the overall tone of the workplace, much of it is initiated from the top-down. “I think the primary driver of negative work environments is poor support — mental, emotional and physical — from management,” says Liphart Rhoads. “It is up to the individual unit managers, the nursing CNO and management to have an open-door policy, provide positive feedback and [promote] healthy work-life balance.”
The benefits of a positive nursing environment cannot be overstated. From reduced rates of nursing turnover and burnout to improved quality of patient care and outcomes, creating a healthy atmosphere is a worthwhile goal that will pay dividends.
Liphart Rhoads, J. (January 2021). Email interview.
Neckar, D. (February 2021). Email interview.