Nurses' well-being: Supporting staff and encouraging resilience

Nurses face a multitude of stressors and challenges every day, from a sometimes erratic work environment to staffing shortages and negative patient outcomes. To address these issues and keep nurses happy and engaged, health systems and hospital leaders must realize the value of supporting resilience among not only their nursing teams but also across their institutions.

During a May 14 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Capella University, Jacqueline Collavo, BSN, RN, chief nursing officer at Pittsburgh-based West Penn Health, part of Allegheny Health Network, and Adele Webb, PhD, RN, assistant dean of external relationships and partnerships at Capella University's School of Nursing and Health Sciences, explained why nurses' well-being matters and how hospital leaders can help support it by fostering resilience.

As CNO of West Penn Health, Ms. Collavo knows one of her most vital responsibilities is finding ways to troubleshoot nurses' everyday stressors to help them take care of their patients. At one of West Penn Health's recent new hire orientations, Ms. Collavo spoke to a new group of nurses and emphasized her commitment to supporting the crucial frontline providers.

She said, "I'm here to help you remove barriers to better care. All of you are the lifeline to our patients, and we rely on you to tell us what we need to do better to help make your job better to better care for our patients."

Practice resilience

One of the best ways to help support nurses as they care for patients is promoting resilience, or helping nurses feel prepared enough to tackle the daily stressors and challenges the job throws at them. Nurses are assigned a variety of daily responsibilities, from challenging home patient care to complex inpatient situations. If nurses practice resilience, they may be able to focus more on the aspects of their job that keep them coming back, rather than the stress and challenges that lead to low retention rates.

"I tell my nurses if you seek resilience and you have some self-reflection … think about what you do every day, what brings you back to work? What keeps you up at night? How can you help deal with those feelings of how we [the organization] can do things better?" Ms. Collavo said. "And I guarantee you if you find some self-reflection and some resilience, you will be better today than you were the day before."

However, resilience alone will not keep nurses happy and boost retention rates, Ms. Collavo said. This is where the nurse leaders' responsibilities come in – to help support the nursing team and maneuver them through hard times.

Being communicative and transparent with nurses, checking in with them about their current work stress, and even stressors outside of work that may be affecting their job, is vital as a nurse leader. Doing this helps nurses feel less alone in tackling their challenges and will consequently improve their resilience and well-being, Ms. Collavo said.

Nurse satisfaction equals patient satisfaction

While it's difficult to directly measure a nurse's level of well-being, hospitals and health systems can track retention rates to gauge how happy and balanced their nursing staff feels in their current positions.

How happy or satisfied a nurse feels with his or her job can affect more than just that individual. Research has shown that nurse satisfaction and well-being is directly linked to the patient's happiness, Ms. Webb said.

"[The nurse's well-being] affects the nurse and their ability to perform their work in an effective and meaningful way. For the department, it affects them being an effective team member, and for the institution it affects patient outcomes," she said. "Better patient outcomes are reflected by nurses who are more resilient and have a feeling of balance and joy and harmony in their work. There are fewer medical errors, higher satisfaction and less turnover."

Access to education helps boost nurse happiness

Offering pathways to education and career development is another way leaders can help foster nurses’ well-being, Ms. Webb said. However, healthcare institutions must also implement tools to support nurses while they pursue higher educational opportunities.

Hospitals and health systems should better manage work environments for nurses and be open to changing schedules to help accommodate nurses' pursuit of educational opportunities. To do this, healthcare organizations can offer tuition assistance, and access to online education and/or flexibility with work requirements. Implementing these practices will help keep nurses happy and help contribute to their desire to stay at their current work organizations, Ms. Webb said.

To access the webinar, click here.

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