5 nurses on motivating teams during the pandemic

Five nurses share their best advice for leading and motivating a nursing team through the COVID-19 pandemic.

We invite all nurses and nursing leaders currently working in healthcare settings to participate in a series of Q&As about their experiences.

Next week's question: What one piece of technology has helped you provide better care as a nurse?

Please send responses to Anuja Vaidya avaidya@beckershealthcare.com by Tuesday, April 21, 5 p.m. CST.

Note: The following responses were edited for length and clarity.

Question: What are your best leadership tips for motivating your nursing teams?

Connie Gonzales, RN. Nurse Manager, Critical Care at Covenant Medical Center (Lubbock, Texas): It is certainly tough to motivate everyone all the time, but you have to be willing to do whatever you ask each caregiver to do, first and foremost. I also like to ensure nurses have what they need to do their job and then let them do their job while giving them good quality feedback and helping them if they are drowning. I like to give a lot of positive feedback and then give feedback for improvements with kindness and love and keep the patient at the center of all discussions. It is also helpful to celebrate big and small accomplishments as much as possible.

Maylynn West, Director of Nursing Operations at CHI Franciscan's St. Clare Hospital (Lakewood, Wash.): Motivating nursing teams right now is a very difficult challenge to even wrap my head around. We as nursing leaders are trying our best to maintain normalcy amongst the chaos by nimbly reacting to the ever-evolving science of COVID-19. As leaders we are faced with the reality of anxious staff and constantly changing directions.

Meals, snacks and coffee definitely help — that's always the first go-to for motivation, but that's going to only go so far. The external pressures that they are feeling are intense, and it's coming from every direction. Healthcare providers are stuck in a space where they want to help those who need them the most, but they also understand just how risky this disease can be.

Although risk is not new to any of them, they need to be given the permission and space to be honest and say whatever it is that they're feeling. In return, your response as a leader is to graciously listen, be humble and be transparent. Due to the fact that these are unprecedented times, you will not have all the answers or the wherewithal to confidently tackle every single issue that comes your way — and that's OK. Let them know that they are appreciated and that you will continue to listen and advocate for them.

This checklist was shared by one of our sister hospitals and is now given to staff. As a leader, you should hang this in your office so you can 'check out' as well:

● Take a moment to think about today
● Acknowledge one thing that was difficult on shift and let it go
● Consider three things that went well today
● Check on your colleagues before you leave — are they OK?
● Now switch your attention to home
● Rest and recharge

Shannon Bates RN. Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Nurse Manger at Covenant Children's Hospital (Lubbock, Texas): Get to know your team — personally and professionally. After that, you can articulate a vision that resonates with your people.

Angela Garces, RN. Clinical Coordinator at Saint Clare's Denville Hospital (Denville, N.J.): I think it all starts with your own attitude. I try to come in to work with a positive attitude, although in my subconscious, I am already expecting the negative comments, the complaints or the overall sense of overwhelm and fear from the staff.  However, my job is to acknowledge what they are feeling, and it's OK to let them know I have those feelings, too. It is important to not minimize their feelings of fear and anxiety during these uncertain times. I have learned that they appreciate receiving real-time updates and feedback instead of hearing about things down the road.

Then, it is important to motivate your staff as well, letting them know we are all in this together. As someone in a leadership role, you must show your staff you are ready in your scrubs, ready to jump to the bedside as the need arises. This is the best way for me to motivate them, by being in the front lines with them, answering call bells, letting them know they are not alone in this. I also jump in staffing as needed.

It's important as well to shout out kudos for all their amazing work. We let them know in person, through email, through our recognition boards, etc. Focus on the positive, bring in food, make a cozy spot in [the] conference room. Have a snack box where people can grab something on the go to give them some boost of energy. Also, include them in unit-based decisions.

For example, a patient gave us a gift card for the floor, and we asked the staff what they wanted to buy. They chose a Keurig coffee maker and K-cups. Giving them control over what we can is important, especially as so much is chosen for them in healthcare. It's the nature of our work, [and] being flexible to what comes our way is the best way to be.

There are good days, days when you feel your staff is motivated, and you walk away feeling like you did a good job. There are other days that no matter how much you try, people are still unhappy, wishing you could have done more. At the end of the day, it's all about doing the best you can with what you have at hand.

Winter Chambers, RN-BC. Nurse Educator at Covenant Medical Center (Lubbock, Texas): The best leadership tip I have for motivating my team is to remember we are here for the patient. Giving our patients the best possible outcome is the reason we are nurses. Remembering our patient is our driving force to continue forward.




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