Nurse Managers are tasked with the near-impossible: ensure your unit is providing quality care, keep patients and families happy, meet productivity goals, all while addressing the needs of your staff but also your CNO. These tasks often feel at odds with each other, but there are clear ways to address each them by focusing on staff satisfaction. When I was a bedside nurse, I worked with distant and disconnected managers as well as active and engaged managers. The difference in mood between these respective departments was profound. These moods are infectious, on both sides of the coin, and the ripple effects are felt in a variety of ways.
The positive effects of increased staff satisfaction in nursing units are well researched. Besides it being a goal that we should strive for in all working environments, increased nurse satisfaction boosts retention rates, patient satisfaction, and overall quality of care. These are all elements that concern the role of a Nurse Manager, not the least of which is financial. Nurse turnover costs departments on average $58,400 for every nurse that leaves. Patient satisfaction leads to government reimbursements, and we all know the financial impacts of patient safety.
These 7 tips will help you to increase your staff’s satisfaction, making the rest of your goals much easier to achieve.
Be Present & Engaged
One of the simplest ways to boost your staff’s satisfaction and morale is by being visible on the unit. It’s too easy to get buried in paperwork and emails in your office without stepping out. Set some time aside each week or month to round on your unit, making sure to hit all shifts multiple days so that your entire staff has a chance to interact with you. For staff that may rarely see you, such as night shifters, you may end up feeling like just a name they see in emails every so often. The more visible you are, the more conversations you have, and the more your staff gets to know you, the more likely they are to empathize with your decisions and air any concerns they may have before they fester and brood.
While making yourself more visible will go a long way to connecting with your staff, there is perhaps no better resource than those exact people you have at your disposal. So listen to them! This is more than just setting aside 60 minutes for a staff meeting once a month. It should be happening daily with every interaction you have. Your staff is a wealth of ideas and insight, but you must establish a level of trust first, and listening is the best way to do that. If your staff feel like you’re just searching for the answers you want, they are not likely to be totally forthcoming with you and those conversations may be too superficial. Employees in all industries just want to be heard, and when their bosses go out of their way to seek those opinions and actually listen to them, employees respond in a number of positive ways.
Involve Them in Decisions
Being a nurse manager is hard work, with bosses of your own, productivity numbers to hit, patient safety to monitor, staff morale, and so on. It’s a juggling act to make it all work, but oftentimes staff only see and focus on staffing ratios or vacation requests. When you invite your staff to peek behind the curtain and see the challenging decisions that have to be made, and as they deliberate to find solutions too, the more they empathize with the difficult decisions your face for your unit. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to all decisions, but seeking their input on other issues helps engage them in the unit and gives them a sense of ownership of the success of their unit. In the end, you will have more voices to help address the issues your unit faces and a more active and involved staff, which leads to increased retention.
Be Clear & Consistent
Annual reviews and huddle boards are not the only ways to express your expectations. They need to be reinforced often, but most importantly they must be consistent. As soon as your staff picks up on a variety of “exceptions” you’ve made without explanation, their trust in you erodes and the veracity with which they try and meet those expectations slides. “Look for alternate ways to reach and communicate with your staff like text messages for millennials, private informal meetings for those who may not speak as freely during your rounds, or impromptu emails for others,” Kara Landon says, Nurse Manager at Legacy Randall Children’s Hospital. “Exploring different avenues to reach your staff will give you more opportunities to reinforce your expectations and priorities, but only if you follow through on those expectations yourself.”
Select Good Leaders
While you manage the unit, it’s critically important you hire and promote leaders to manage the shifts effectively. That means grooming and guiding staff nurses into Charge nurse roles, hiring Assistant Managers with good staff rapport, and assembling your other administrative team to work together with you and your goals and the unit as a whole. Set a high bar for your unit leaders to live up to, and work with them to meet those expectations. The more effective your middle-management team is, the more likely you are to have a cohesive unit that works efficiently and productively. This causes more organization and less stress for your staff, boosting their satisfaction by removing as many negative stressors as possible.
Take Care of Yourself
When asked how a nurse manager can boost staff satisfaction on their unit, Dr. Erica Martinez, RN, CTNC, says, “Perhaps the question could be - are the managers themselves satisfied? I find that engaged and happy leaders are far more likely to foster that same culture and energy forward. A senior leadership that shows value and concern for the role of manager goes a long way in creating an overarching culture that fosters satisfaction and engagement at all levels.”
Nurses have a serious job to do, providing care to millions of Americans. It’s a stressful, taxing job too, and one of the reasons burnout is so high. Find ways to alleviate that stress by encouraging potlucks, bringing in snacks, throwing parties, anything related to coffee, staff highlight boards, and so forth. During your rounds, don’t take yourself too seriously. Show some self-deprecation, engage in friendly banter, and loosen the mood a tad so people feel more relaxed and at ease. These small gestures don’t cost much, but they mix up the monotony of work and encourage interactions between staff members. However, if this is the only form of appreciation you are showing staff, it will have the negative effect. Couple these efforts with the previous 6 points and a genuine level of care and understanding and the satisfaction of your staff is sure to go up.
By making a conscious effort to focus on your staff and their satisfaction, you’ll begin to see positive movement in a number of areas that are central to the role of a nurse manager. Utilize these 7 tips to have an immediate and direct impact on your staff satisfaction and overall department functionality.
Zach Smith, BSN, RN is a founding member of NurseGrid, a technology company focused on providing modern tools to those on the front lines of healthcare. NurseGrid Mobile--their free mobile app for nurses--is the #1 nurse app in the country, while NurseGrid Manager--their department application--has led to an average increase in staff satisfaction for 85% of staff members. Zach lives in Portland, OR with his son and wife, a labor and delivery nurse.