5 Ways To Help Your DON Build a Positive Nursing Work Environment

Nursing director talking to group of nurses in a healthcare facility

The director of nursing (DON) is the linchpin to every facility’s success. Each director relies on the support of their leadership to be effective in their role and cultivate a positive nursing work environment. However, keeping this essential role filled is becoming increasingly more difficult. We’ll discuss some strategies to help your organization better support this critical role.

Why Are Directors Leaving?

In one year 37% of director respondents had switched jobs and 40% had plans to change jobs, according to a survey by the American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing (AAPACN). The most common reasons directors cited for leaving were:

  • limited or poor relationship with their immediate supervisor
  • lack of autonomy and flexibility
  • feeling tired of the status quo and stifled
  • overlooked or undervalued
  • exhaustion
  • demands of the work exceed compensation

Why Is It Important to Support Your Top Nursing Leader?

The nursing facility director is one of healthcare’s most challenging roles. They hold all the various and complex pieces of your nursing facility together to ensure a nursing work environment that’s conducive to optimal patient care. How well a DON performs their job has a far-reaching effect on your facility. A nursing director influences:

  • patient outcomes and safety
  • staff morale and retention
  • budget and operations goals
  • compliance with government regulations

While the retention statistics for this crucial role are concerning, as is the level of demand for nurses in general, be assured that there are feasible solutions. When a facility equips its director with the proper tools and works to create a healthy and functioning nursing work environment, it sets them up for success and allows them to thrive. Let’s review some ways your facility can best support your nursing director.

1. Adopt or Maintain an Open Door Policy

As previously surveyed, one of the top reasons directors left their position was due to their relationship with management. This can be difficult feedback for any leader. The good news is that cultivating a healthy work environment with your staff is possible with the investment of time and practical strategies, such as an open-door policy.

An open-door policy is a guiding principle that encourages employees to discuss their work-related ideas, opinions, concerns, and feedback with their managers — without fear of retaliation or reprisal. The employees have a safe space, deeply rooted in trust and respect, that allows for honest conversations with their boss.

The benefits of an open-door policy with your director can include the following:

  • retention due to increased job satisfaction and feeling valued
  • improved communication
  • greater morale
  • improved efficiency and productivity
  • enhanced problem-solving

2. Provide Staffing Solutions

Poor staffing can be your DON’s Achilles heel. Ensuring patient, staff, and regulatory needs are met with limited staff is stressful and daunting, detracting from their other responsibilities. Inadequate staffing increases the director’s workload and work hours — leading to job dissatisfaction, burnout, and attrition risk.

By providing your director with scheduling flexibility and alternative staffing solutions, your facility increases your director’s efficiency while preserving their resiliency. These types of staffing tools equip the director with the autonomy to choose the best staffing solution to meet the facility’s needs.

As an example, you may want to consider providing your DON’s team with the technology needed to manage float pool nurses. Not only will this make their lives easier, but it will also build trust as you demonstrate your willingness to invest in resources that will make the nursing work environment both pleasant and effective.

Filling shifts is one staffing solution that can support your director, but you can go above and beyond by ensuring that those shifts are filled with well-trained professionals. The best way to ensure that outcome is to avoid the risks of using “1099 staffing agencies” which supply facilities with nurse contractors, and to instead use a staffing partner that can fill your shifts with W-2 nurse professionals.

This role is demanding by its nature. However, ensuring effective staffing strategies can, in turn, provide role stability while demonstrating your facility’s appreciation of your director’s time and full scope of responsibility.

3. Encourage Innovation and Leadership

The nursing director has their finger on the pulse of your facility. They appreciate its strengths and weaknesses. They know which problems to prioritize and how they affect your patients, staff, and facility.

The director is a skilled innovator and problem-solver. Given your trust and some latitude, they can mobilize their team to be agents of change. They know how to implement practical solutions in relevant ways.

It’s equally vital for the organization to recognize your director as a top leader. Yes, they can carry out administrative and managerial tasks. However, they are so much more valuable when they contribute their expertise in developing the budget, hiring staff, creating facility policies, etc. Giving your nurse leader a seat at the table engages them and makes them a stakeholder in your facility, inevitably leading to a positive nursing work environment.

4. Support Director of Nursing Training

By investing in your director’s training and professional development, your facility demonstrates your commitment to their growth and success in their role. There are several ways to support education and development, which helps to foster a positive work environment for nurses in general.

Organization Membership

Provide membership to the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL), National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration for Long-Term Care (NADONA), and AAPACN. These are the top nursing leadership and long-term care organizations, providing essential information and insights into the industry’s common trends. They also provide free training and a network of support for their members.

Professional Certification

Consider sponsoring a director of nursing certification, which provides leadership, industry, and business training to complement your director’s clinical and supervisory experience. Training includes beneficial topics that help meet your business needs, such as budgeting, regulatory compliance, and risk management.

Tuition Reimbursement

Consider tuition reimbursement as a benefit and incentive. Many directors start their careers as nurses in their nursing facilities. They are then promoted due to their clinical and administrative skills. However, many wish to continue their professional development by pursuing a clinical certification in geriatrics or a degree in nursing, healthcare, or business.

5. Foster Role Sustainability

The nursing director’s job is challenging. Just as your nursing staff is at risk for moral injury and burnout, so is your director. And without the proper support, your nursing work environment will suffer as well. However, there are ways to mitigate this risk.

Allow your director to cross-train their staff so they can delegate some responsibility. Work with them to implement helpful strategies, such as focus time, to increase their efficiency. The concept of focus time refers to a dedicated time of 1-2 hours, for example, where administrative tasks can be addressed. This uninterrupted time allows your director to complete their work faster and with more attention to detail.

There will be instances where long, stressful workdays can’t be avoided. If the state comes in for an inspection, the director dedicates their complete resources to them. However, after completing the inspection and addressing other time-sensitive responsibilities, consider providing your leader with a comp day or some time off to recharge.

Creating a sustainable position for your top nurse is a worthwhile investment. It demonstrates your respect for their work. It also provides your facility with the benefits of strong and consistent leadership while fostering healthy business practices.

Help Your DON Build the Best Nursing Work Environment Possible

Ensuring safe staffing with the correct skillset during a nursing shortage strains your leadership’s limited resources. We feel your pain and can offer relief. Learn how IntelyCare can help your nursing director and facility thrive with the right staffing solutions.