Creating a Healthy Work Environment: Nursing Leaders’ Guide

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Written by Katherine Zheng, PhD, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A team of nurses and doctors embrace and smile, showing their appreciation for one another.

Healthcare facilities continue to face staffing challenges related to high nurse turnover and shortages. For management leaders, these staffing issues can end up compromising their facility’s ability to deliver quality patient care. To tackle this issue, a primary focus should be cultivating a healthy work environment. Nursing professionals appreciate these efforts and thrive when facilities make this a priority.

Some causes of turnover can be unprecedented, such as the long-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the growing proportion of retiring nurses. But, more commonly, there are addressable issues in the work environment that may be driving nurses away from the workplace — or profession — altogether.

If you’re a nursing leader who is looking to make improvements to your facility, reevaluating the work environment can be an effective and actionable place to start. This simple yet practical guide can help you foster a positive work environment and build a stronger, longer-lasting healthcare team.

Why Is It Important to Foster a Positive Nurse Work Environment?

The work environment can serve as an anchor that helps nurses feel supported and equipped to deliver the best patient care possible. Research has shown that nurses in positive work environments report higher job satisfaction, which significantly reduces turnover. For facilities, reducing nurse turnover can have a positive, rippling effect on workflow by:

  • Minimizing hiring and onboarding costs.
  • Decreasing gaps in staffing.
  • Improving patient and nurse safety.
  • Reducing medical errors.

In fact, studies have shown the average cost of one Registered Nurse leaving a facility is $52,350, equating to total annual losses between $6.6 million and $10.5 million. Seeing as how the work environment serves as a foundation for both staff and facilities, finding ways to improve it can be a worthwhile effort.

What Does a Healthy Work Environment Mean for Nurses?

To cultivate a healthy work environment, nursing leaders should first recognize what nurses value most from management. While an ideal work environment may look different from nurse to nurse, there are generally three standards that experts on this topic recognize:

Nursing Standards for a Healthy Work Environment
Safety Nurses are trained to put the needs of the patient before their own. While nurses are busy caring for the safety of their patients, they want to feel that management is keeping them safe as well.
Satisfaction Job satisfaction is an important aspect of work. To many nurses, this means getting a sense of fulfillment and feeling valued.
Empowerment Empowerment is commonly fostered from the working environment. Nurses want to feel ownership and control over their careers and decisions.

How to Improve Your Work Environment

As with any profession, nurses want to know that they’re being seen and heard by their leaders. By taking concrete actions to build these standards into your work environment, you can show your staff that you’re here to support them. Now, let’s discuss what these actions are.

1. Lead With Transparency

Nursing is a profession that’s built on trust and honesty between the nurse and patient. Because of this, transparent leadership is a fundamental aspect of a healthy nurse work environment. Studies have shown that nurses with authentic leaders are much more likely to be satisfied with their jobs.

However, transparency doesn’t mean having all the answers. It can actually mean being upfront when you don’t — and communicating what you can. Some key examples of leading with transparency include:

  • Providing all the information needed for nurses to deliver the best quality care.
  • Communicating both good and bad organizational changes that impact staff.
  • Keeping up-to-date with performance data that can be shared.
  • Being openly available to discuss staff concerns.

By being transparent, you’re able to forge closer relationships and more effectively communicate with your staff. This feeds into building a strong company culture, which helps reinforce your overarching goal of maintaining a positive work environment.

2. Promote Autonomy and Collaboration

Promoting autonomy and collaboration is also crucial to developing a healthy work environment. Nursing is a profession that provides extensive training on how to act in the best interests of the patient. It’s important for nurses to feel that their expertise is being taken in account during the decision-making process.

Nursing leaders can begin encouraging autonomy by setting clear expectations and empowering nurses to exercise their best judgment when delivering care. However, as a nurse’s scope of practice is built upon teamwork, their autonomy can be best supported through avenues of collaboration. Some examples of this include:

  • Advocating for the nurse’s input during daily rounds with the healthcare team.
  • Holding team meetings with nursing staff to invite feedback about workflow.
  • Providing educational opportunities and seminars for continued growth.

3. Ensure Adequate Staffing and Safety

Cultivating a positive work environment for nurses also means assigning manageable workloads. Finding ways to ensure your unit is adequately staffed can improve nurse-to-patient ratios and prevent burnout.

Adequate staffing also supports the safety of not only the patients, but also the nurses. According to a report by The Minnesota Nurses Association, decreasing the number of nursing staff by 9% increased the risk of work-related injury and illness by nearly 65% across Minnesota hospitals.

However, as a nurse leader, it can sometimes be hard to fulfill staffing needs without proper resources. As you work toward building a better work environment, you may want to consider alternative staffing solutions to help even out the workload for your current staff.

One potential solution is partnering with staffing agencies who can help fill open shifts with well-trained professionals. While contractors are often a popular fix for short staffing, it is important to understand the risks of using 1099 staffing agencies and instead consult agencies that can provide you with a stable, W2 workforce.

Aiming for a Healthy Work Environment? Nursing Leaders Can Start Here

Improving your work environment takes time and patience. We understand that it can feel overwhelming figuring out where to start. Learn more about what makes a truly healthy work environment and other valuable healthcare insights by signing up for our free newsletter today.

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