Nobody thrives in a toxic work environment, and that includes both healthcare professionals and their patients. The patient-oriented aspect of the healthcare field can create a challenging culture for nurses as they balance both patient care and staff needs. Creating a healthy work environment is essential for nurses to develop strong coping skills, decrease burnout, and lower employee turnover.
At the beginning of your healthcare career, expectations can be difficult to manage. Any work environment will be challenging to some degree, so talking through your frustrations and fears with your peers and actively listening to others can often normalize them — there is a good chance that most healthcare professionals have experienced something similar.
Talking with your peers can also help pinpoint the heart of the issue if you’re experiencing negativity in your work environment. Do you feel a lack of structural support? Is your manager especially demanding? Do the hours feel unfairly distributed? Talking things through with your coworker friends and old classmates and getting peer advice may help to alleviate your concerns and help you find solutions.
Don’t forget that healthcare professionals are human. Over the course of your nursing career, you will see people make mistakes — and you will make some of them yourself. It is important to not take feedback and criticism personally, but to see it as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Part of your continued development as a healthcare professional will come from on-the-job peer and leadership feedback on your work.
As a colleague, the opportunity may also arise for you to offer feedback to your peers. Teamwork is essential to creating a collaborative, safe, positive environment at work. And part of working as a team means speaking up when something goes wrong — in the healthcare field, it could mean the difference between life and death.
When offering feedback or correcting a behavior at work, it’s essential to do so respectfully and constructively. Try to present feedback in a positive way that makes your coworker feel like they are being given the opportunity to grow, instead of being scolded. A workplace where people are constructively corrected and genuinely valued creates an environment for continued learning and high-quality patient care.
Just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean there is not another or better way to do it. Active listening and emotional intelligence are important skills to develop in the workplace and can open the door to new and innovative ways of operating. When a coworker gives their perspective or opinion, listen carefully and make them feel both heard and respected for their input. Nursing is an ever-evolving field, so being flexible and adaptable to new ideas and inputs is essential to being a proactive nurse.
Part of creating a healthy and inclusive work environment is your ability to stand up for yourself when the occasion calls for it. Sometimes there may be a very valid reason why you have chosen to do something a certain way. In order to avoid conflict, it’s important that you stay calm and clearly explain your rationale using direct language so your coworker feels their input was taken seriously and considered. Moments like this can be effective learning opportunities.
The American Nurses Association (ANA) Code of Ethics that we adhere to as professional nurses are intended to set the tone for nursing professionalism. When working in a professional setting, honesty and integrity are essential to building trust with your teammates, and part of creating that trust is taking responsibility for your decisions and the subsequent outcomes.
When you take ownership, it not only encourages more critical thinking before making a decision, but it demonstrates your integrity when you own the outcomes, good or bad. It also makes others feel more comfortable taking ownership of their own choices which creates an environment for learning rather than one of placing blame.
Safety should always be priority number one when working in patient care. As nurses, we use the ethical principles of non-maleficence (to do no harm) and veracity (telling the truth; if we see something, we say something) to help ensure the safety of our patients, co-workers, and ourselves. In the healthcare field, any failure when it comes to safety endangers the health and even the lives of your patients, but also your coworkers as well.
It is imperative to the health, safety, and success of your team to speak up when you see someone cutting corners or making poor choices. Depending on the scenario, you may consider talking to the individual in private first. But if you continue to see issues that could put patients or staff at risk, it’s important that you’re able to escalate the issue to your manager.
Building camaraderie on a team means recognizing your peers when they do good work. Nurses are often the primary point of contact for patients and possess not only clinical skills but the soft skills necessary for a quality bedside manner. Because of their breadth of skills, it’s easy for nurses to go unrecognized for their contribution to a patient’s well-being. That’s why it’s important to recognize the impact you and your teammates have on the organization. Sharing your personal wins and calling out the contributions of your peers will help build confidence in the team and improve overall morale.
In any challenging work environment there are often great rewards, but there can also be hardships. Difficult days are part of the job, but how you cope with them is what will determine your success or failure in the field. Having a good mentor can help you get through those more lackluster moments in nursing. And when times get tough, stay focused on your purpose. Purpose is a strong driver of perseverance, and when you’re feeling low or exasperated, it can help you remember why you entered the field and help you keep perspective.
“Fun” can feel like a dirty word in a medical environment when dealing with important, critical matters that sometimes concern life and death. But it’s essential to your mental health to find balance between the stress of the job and the rewarding, even fun aspects of being a part of a team. Humor, team building activities, and just taking a breather together can all help you find balance and keep perspective when times get tough. Laughter can be, after all, the best medicine.
Related Resource: American Association of Critical-Care Nurses