Steps to Establish a Healthy Work Environment in an Academic Nursing Setting : Nurse Educator

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Departments: Faculty Development

Steps to Establish a Healthy Work Environment in an Academic Nursing Setting

Saunders, Jana PhD, RN; Sridaromont, Kathryn PhD, RN; Gallegos, Belinda MSN, RN

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doi: 10.1097/NNE.0000000000000829
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A healthy work environment has been described as a workplace that is positive, supportive, safe, collaborative, empowering, motivational, collegial, professional, respectful, caring, and satisfying. Healthy work environments were first promoted in clinical nursing settings but have gradually progressed to academic nursing settings. Both the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses1,2 and the National League for Nursing3 have emphasized the importance of promoting a healthy work environment for nurses by developing standards and core values for clinical nurses and nursing faculty. A healthy work environment in an academic nursing setting includes learning across all levels of the academic community: faculty and staff development, student outcomes, and organizational success. The purpose of this article is 3-fold: to present specific strategies for faculty, staff, and students in schools of nursing for promoting a healthy academic work environment using the 6 + 1 academic workplace standards; to endorse the proposed seventh standard of self-care as a foundation for the 6 essential standards; and to describe the relevance of a values-based culture in establishing a healthy work environment.

Academic Standard 1: Skilled Communication

Skilled communication is an art requiring practice and continual training.4 Gaining support from the school's leaders, identifying strong faculty and staff to implement training sessions, developing policies/procedures, and addressing unhealthy communication are needed to drive the process of improved communication. Strategies for more effective faculty and staff communication include information sharing, team building, active listening, assessments of personal communication styles, self-reflection for role performance, opportunities for professional development, and transparency through open communication. Collaborative communication is needed to break down the “walls of silos” that exist within academic hierarchies and to hold all individuals accountable for creating a healthy academic environment.

Strategies for students include their immersion into the evidence-based practice of skilled communication on entry into the nursing program. Use of standardized team-based educational training for all beginning students serves to promote interprofessional skilled communication to ensure patient safety in clinical settings; this can be threaded throughout the entire curriculum with increasing levels of complexity. Interprofessional communication is one of the essential components of the curriculum. Therapeutic verbal and nonverbal communication skills can be developed through simulation learning activities using standardized patients and validated through formative and summative evaluation across all levels of a curriculum. Skilled communication is cornerstone for establishing a healthy work environment in an academic nursing setting.

Academic Standard 2: True Collaboration

Collaboration cannot be achieved without skilled communication. Cultivating skilled communication between faculty and staff greatly improves collaboration. Successful collaboration requires teamwork, trust, respect, and support for the development of positive working relationships.4 A willingness to develop mutual goals, set aside personal biases, create relationships, and overcome barriers are essential for collaborative efforts to achieve greater outcomes. Faculty and staff must be relentless in pursuing and fostering true collaboration.

Team building and interprofessional simulation activities augment collaboration by preparing students to deliberately and collaboratively work together to reach a common goal of coordinated, high-quality patient-centered care. Problem- and case-based learning are approaches across disciplines where students apply their knowledge to “real-world” scenarios, thus promoting collaborative practice skills and enhancing health care knowledge. Collaboration prepares students to establish and maintain professional relationships with patients, families, and health care team members by integrating knowledge and practice. Advancing collaborative activities is instrumental in establishing a healthy work environment in an academic nursing setting.

Academic Standard 3: Effective Decision Making

Faculty and staff must be valued and committed partners in mutual respect and shared decision making. They must be willing to objectively analyze data, evaluate opinions, and request sufficient input and perspectives, both positive and negative, prior to making a decision. Faculty may make decisions in course, program, department, and committee meetings to ensure student learning outcomes and organizational goals are successfully met. Staff may make decisions in activities such as awards/honors, fund raising, peer committees, policies/bylaws, and professional development. Staff need to be viewed as an integral part of the academic organization. Schools should promote educational programs that develop and improve skills in collaborative decision making, integrating organizational values into decisions, and using data to drive decisions.4 Students need to learn reflective and critical thinking skills in prioritizing and assessing patients to help them make effective decisions in clinical settings. Shared decision-making is one of the key characteristics for establishing a healthy work environment in an academic nursing setting.

Academic Standard 4: Appropriate Staffing

Faculty and staff must ensure the effective match between the mission of the school and designated faculty and staff expertise. A commitment to recruiting and maintaining highly qualified faculty with specified areas of expertise is essential to meet the needs of students and the organization. The determination of didactic and clinical teaching assignments is based on individual faculty expertise and program curriculum needs. Faculty may participate in course selection, workload, new faculty hiring, program leadership roles, and creative teaching methodologies. Professional development opportunities for faculty and staff may include formal/informal mentoring, continuing education, certification, presentations, and tuition support. Retention counselors, coaches, an interprofessional simulation center, interprofessional teams, and educational technology services assist students in achieving positive learning outcomes. Appropriate staffing of faculty and staff is essential for establishing a healthy work environment in an academic nursing setting.

Academic Standard 5: Meaningful Recognition

Faculty, staff, and students must be recognized and must recognize others for the value each brings to the work of the organization. Individuals may be recognized on the local, state, and national levels for their mentoring, teaching/learning, scholarly, clinical practice, and evidence-based contributions. Strategies for meaningful recognition include building an inclusive culture where all feel valued for their contributions, appreciated for their positive qualities, and supported by colleagues and peers. Meaningful recognition promotes job satisfaction/retention, personal psychological well-being, and less job stress, which all contribute to establishing a healthy work environment in an academic nursing setting.

Academic Standard 6: Authentic Leadership

Authentic leaders must be aware of the perspectives of self and others, model the shared core values, and provide inspiration.5 Faculty leaders motivate others to achieve common goals and evaluate the impact of leadership decisions on individuals and the organization. Faculty and staff leaders can focus on becoming role models for students, developing leadership skills, and promoting health and well-being. Professional development needs to focus on enhancing faculty and staff leadership skills. The positive results of authentic leadership are optimism, trust, work satisfaction, engagement, low turnover, and creativity.6 Authentic leadership plays a huge role in fostering positive relationships for the growth and development of a healthy work environment in an academic nursing setting.

Proposed Academic Standard 7: Self-care

Self-care describes the actions that an individual might take to reach his/her optimal physical and mental health and can be effective in reducing stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue, as well as increasing resilience, retention, and coping. Faculty and staff must engage and support the development of self-care as a foundational component of a healthy work environment, teach the value of self-care activities, and serve as role models for students.7 Faculty and staff must acknowledge the realistic vulnerabilities of the nursing profession as stated by the adage: “We must care for ourselves to effectively care for others.”

Through interactive classroom and simulation activities, students may learn to prioritize self-care, achieve healthy balances in their lives, and cultivate appropriate strategies for responding to their emotions. Self-care activities may include incivility online modules, stress reduction techniques, mindfulness exercises (including a free phone app), and a structured wellness program. Self-care is the foundation for establishing a healthy work environment in an academic nursing setting.

A Values-Based Culture

A values-based culture consists of shared core values such as open communication, respect, caring, inclusive environment, diversity, integrity, and excellence. The first step in establishing a values-based culture is to explore and define shared core values and integrate them throughout everyday interactions with colleagues and students. The culture is shaped by a clear set of ground rules creating the identity and guiding principles of the organization for decision making and a sense of community. The alignment between personal and organizational values serves to unify and motivate all members. The adoption of a values-based culture is an excellent strategy for fostering and sustaining a healthy work environment in an academic nursing setting.


Through the 6 + 1 academic workplace standards, the proposed seventh standard of self-care, and the relevance of a values-based culture, faculty and staff in an academic nursing setting need to embrace establishing a healthy work environment, invest in the hard work of changing the work culture and environment, and support each other in this team effort. Self-care can be the critical component in promoting faculty, staff, and student well-being; nursing excellence; productivity; and positive outcomes. It is our hope this article will challenge and empower administrators, faculty, staff, and students in academic nursing settings to dialogue about their own work environments and work together to develop, implement, and maintain strategies to sustain healthy work environments within schools of nursing.


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