Q I've been a nurse leader for many years and I've noticed that there just isn't as much joy in the workplace as there was in the earlier time of my career. What advice do you have on how we can restore joy at work?
As I travel around to different organizations throughout the country, it's easy to see that many nurse leaders are dealing with this same issue. Part of the challenge that we face as leaders is that we've accepted the current state of everyone feeling overwhelmed, overloaded, and overstressed as the new “normal.” Your recognition that your workplace is lacking joy is a great first step. Sometimes the hardest part of any change is the simple (or not so simple) acknowledgment that the problem exists in the first place. Let's break down the root causes of lack of joy as a starting point for interventions to mitigate their effects and improve the culture.
Employees often feel overwhelmed. In the organizational quest to make things easier and more efficient, we've provided nurses with an endless amount of data, alerts, decision-making tools, and streams of communication—many times in the palm of their hand or attached to their waist. Where we've let staff members down is that this constant feed of data from multiple sources isn't readily translated into useable information to help them make key decisions in the moment. In fact, for many, these well-intended processes actually increase interruptions, create distractions, and are frequently cited as the primary source of feeling overwhelmed. We must turn data into useable information that easily becomes a relatively seamless part of existing processes.
In addition to being overwhelmed, staff and leaders are overloaded and overstressed. Consider your own schedule both inside and outside of work. The workday is full of competing priorities, high stress, and high volume. Your personal calendar is likely just as full of commitments with family, community, and personal things to do. Add to this our need to feel constantly connected to electronic devices and social media accounts, and it's clear how we all feel like there just aren't enough hours in the day. We must address these often unrealistic expectations that we have of our employees and ourselves to maintain this incredible pace of life. We've become so accustomed to living in a cortisol bath—the primary stress hormone—that we've forgotten how we should be feeling when our stress level is low, we become anxious that we aren't feeling stressed, and the vicious cycle never stops.
In order to combat some of these “joy robbers” from your workplace, the first step is to take a look in the mirror. Are you feeling joy in your work? Are you role modeling the behaviors that you want to see from your staff in terms of prioritization, stress reduction, and workload management? If yes, great! If no, begin with yourself. Assess your current level of joy at work and make changes in your own approach to increase your feelings of satisfaction and commitment.
As a former CNO, I often found my days packed with meetings in windowless rooms to be grueling and a source of frustration. I found great joy and relaxation in making rounds to visit with staff, physicians, and, especially, patients. The ability to connect with my key team members and the people they were serving was a great reminder of why my work—seemingly so far from the bedside—was so important. Find a source of joy in your day and make it a priority. Role modeling this will give others on your team permission to do the same.
At the end of the day, nurses want to provide the best possible care for their patients; this is the primary source of their joy at work. Our job as leaders is to remove the barriers that get in the way. We must do this in addition to ensuring that staff members are recognized for the work they do, compensated fairly, and have control over their own practice. Using an evidence-based model for creating a positive practice environment, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Pathway to Excellence® Program, is a proven way for nurse leaders to create joy in today's busy workplace.