The role of nurse leaders in creating healthy work environments

role of nurse

When working in any healthcare body or organization, it is easy to assume that nurse leaders purely care for the well-being of their patients. However, a happy and healthy nursing team is productive, engaged, and always willing to do its best in the face of various challenges.

Therefore, nurse leaders arguably have a duty of care to ensure their staff’s well-being is always protected. Policies and practices focused on wellbeing help to prevent nurses from burning out or missing deadlines — but at the same time, it is simply good practice for leaders to show employees that they care.

Nurses who go on to study for a leadership degree will typically cover the basics of inspiring teams and other nursing practitioners — but at the same time, there is usually a focus on how to keep teams and units productive and proactive.

Let’s take a closer look at how nurse leaders can help transform healthcare policies and standards to better support their staff.

Who are nurse leaders?

As their titles suggest, nurse leaders are healthcare professionals who have studied extensively to apply management principles in hospitals and clinics.

While many nurse leaders might adopt such positions and responsibilities on the job, many others pursue further education to learn about how to inspire people, influence policies, and improve working standards.

For example, an experienced nurse who wants to explore a leadership and management role within healthcare might choose to explore an MSN in nursing leadership, through an institution such as the University of Indianapolis (UoI). In fact, the UoI’s MSN program provides students with insight into more than decision-making at the patient level. They will get to learn about financial management and team structuring, for example.

Beyond this, MSNs in leadership offer nurses the chance to explore concepts that affect the safety of patients and caregivers, as well as the internal cultures they work in. Crucially, an MSN in nursing leadership helps nurses understand how to manage not only people but also the workplace.

The MSN on offer from the UoI can also provide a useful foundation for launching into a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) qualification, or an associated PhD. Nurses keen to change working practices and standards through leadership are often also keen to explore broader concepts.

Nurse leaders, therefore, care deeply not only about patient outcomes but also how nurses and other healthcare workers reach such conclusions. They are concerned about how cultures and structures are set up to support people in high-intensity situations and are experts at looking at the bigger picture.

What can nurse leaders do to change workplace wellbeing for their employees?

A healthy, supportive, and communicative workplace is one that breeds exceptional care standards. To offer the best possible care for patients undergoing various treatments and surgeries, healthcare teams need to work together closely — especially in times of intense workloads and when some nurses might feel overwhelmed.

Thankfully, nurse leaders are not there to ‘bark orders’. The best leaders listen carefully to their staff and create healthy, open workplaces for people to explore different concepts and ideas and to raise problems, should they need to.

Let’s explore a few potential ways nurse leaders can start to make hospitals and clinics healthier, and more supportive places to work.

Communicate openly and with purpose

The success of any healthcare organization revolves around communication within — from wards to specialty departments, a team that discusses issues openly is likely to feel more comfortable and supported from day to day.

A nursing leader who promotes open, clear communication cares deeply about what their staff has to say and the ideas they put forward and values honesty in the workplace. Honest communication ensures everyone knows what they are working towards and that patients receive the best care standards.

Concerning employee well-being, those staff members are encouraged to communicate openly and honestly and feel at ease relying on others and managing their own workloads. They are more confident in delivering news and updates to patients and even in making tricky decisions.

Nurse leaders who encourage open communication without judgment also welcome nurses to approach them with concerns and concepts that the department might not have considered before. This means the workplace is not only more supportive but is more innovative from the get-go.

Leaders in nursing departments should focus on creating ‘open door’ policies, practice active listening, and value each employee’s opinions and experiences equally. Doing so offers a hugely positive boost to nurses’ mental health and wellbeing.

Encourage collaboration

Individual nurses feel more confident when making decisions if they have a core team behind them for support. That is not to say they should delegate all their tasks and workloads — rather, they should have an innate appreciation for the people they work alongside.

Working in teams helps to lighten complex loads and, therefore, boost individual happiness and well-being. It is therefore down to nurse leaders to encourage teamwork between nurses in any given department.

Much of this can revolve around developing a clear vision for a department and ensuring everyone knows their roles. Moreover, nurse leaders can encourage their staff to learn more about the different work other people carry out in various teams and departments.

This ensures people know who to turn to when facing challenges — so they can reach out for support when approaching deadlines and handling emergency cases.

Nurse leaders must also be willing to collaborate with nurses at all levels. The most supportive nurse leaders are those who dive into cases and who are more than happy to help provide solutions or make suggestions that are new to explore.

After all, nurse leaders with MSN degrees are likely to be more experienced than those they lead. They are in a prime position to offer guidance while tailoring their advice to the individual skill sets of different nurses and specialists.

Collaborative working environments are efficient, safe, and always adaptable in facing challenges and change. Therefore, it is wise for nurse leaders to encourage a culture of teamwork as early on as possible.

Analyze staffing requirements

As mentioned earlier, much of the study involved nursing leadership MSNs focus on staffing administration and resource handling. Nurse leaders are in a great position to not only look at the ‘big picture’ when it comes to staffing and technological needs but also to consult personally with nurses on what they need from day to day.

Nurse leaders are not removed from the day-to-day running of clinics. They have the power and authority to monitor staffing and check resource levels but also work closely with the people running said clinics. That means they get a broad picture of how administrative decisions impact the hospital floor the well-being of staff, and thus patient outcomes.

Therefore, a nurse leader can help improve the well-being of nursing teams by carefully analyzing the staffing needs of each department they oversee. They can, for example, move specialists around from clinic to clinic if one is understaffed and the people working there need extra moral support. This also means nurse leaders can see clearly where there might be a need for additional financial injection into certain areas, and where there might be an increased need for new recruits.

Nurse leaders can, therefore, take time to help influence hospital administrators to reallocate funding and to work with those in charge of budgets to lay out the cases for additional support. They can back up their claims and proposals with patient outcome data, as well as information on staffing levels and absence data.

An efficiently staffed and supported workplace is one where nurses do not have to work so hard to ensure patients are receiving the best care possible. By working with leaders, they can provide feedback and insight into how things operate on the floor.

Assess working conditions

Similar to the above, nurse leaders can oversee the working conditions of specific clinics and treatment areas to ensure staff receive the help and support they need. This might arise through open communication and feedback with staff working in a given clinic and through analyzing patient outcomes and available resources.

Nurse leaders can work with administrators to look at areas where clinics need additional tools and expertise, particularly where outcomes can potentially improve through extra help and attention. Some leaders might even have insight into systems management within healthcare settings.

Again, achieving these results means working closely in collaboration with staff nurses and by looking at the bigger picture. Instead of making assumptions regarding clinic needs, they can talk directly with nurses to learn more about what could help to ease pressures and improve outcomes.

By optimizing the needs of staff and the patients they care for, people working under nurse leaders become more confident in the workplace and feel more at ease knowing they have the tools they need. Moreover, they feel comfortable knowing there is a channel they can approach for help should they need it.

Of course, nurse leadership oversight in this regard also applies to health and safety procedures. They can work with auditors and safety professionals to ensure everyone follows protocols correctly and that staff are supported when working directly with patients.

Clinics and nurses need oversight and communication with leaders to work without fear of accident or injury. Nurse leaders must be ready to dive deep into every facet of a clinic or department to ensure staff and patients are supported — and to work with staff to help improve standards.

Help nurses feel valued and appreciated

Feeling valued and appreciated is extremely important in any line of work, but nurses who work tirelessly with patients need considerable recognition. While the work of a nurse and positive patient outcomes provide their own individual rewards, leaders who recognize and communicate praise with staff are likely to foster a happier, more productive workforce.

Nurses who receive regular positive feedback and insight into how they help to improve patients’ lives will feel empowered to keep their work to such an exceptional standard. Nurses want to see the positive effects they have on the people they work with — and leaders can provide performance reviews and on-the-job pep talks to help fulfill this need.

Positive reinforcement shows nurses that they have worth beyond the basic paycheck and that they are vital in helping to keep departments running healthily and successfully. Again, leaders could help to bring teams together to understand each other’s individual values.

Ensuring nurses know they are valued and that they are important to the running of a clinic or department should be pivotal to how leaders run their teams. Of course, it should form part of broader feedback to ensure people do not just receive praise and positive notes for the sake of it.

Nurses need leaders to look out for their wellbeing

It is reasonable to expect nurses and other healthcare specialists to look after their individual needs in whichever settings they work. However, there will always be some facets of working in healthcare that leaders can directly influence, more so than their staff.

For example, in many cases, nurse leaders can work with policymakers and administrators to ensure change occurs — and to ensure that nurses’ voices get attention at the higher levels of healthcare provision.

Nurses who know their voices matter and that they can raise concerns through a communicative and caring leader will feel happier and more willing to work hard for results. It is not always easy to see how one can influence the workplace just by giving feedback — meaning it is down to a nursing leader to help make such voices louder, especially when well-being and mental health are at risk.

A nursing leader is someone who cares not only about patients and their outcomes but also about the people who care directly for patients. They also care deeply about how a clinic or hospital department operates — and what is possible to help it run at peak efficiency and productivity.

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