It's Time for Managers to Recognize and Engage Nurses

Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN - 07/16/19

In a field such as nursing where staff are all too often overworked, underpaid and left to reap their own rewards from an often times thankless job, employee recognition and engagement from managers can go a long way to improve teamwork, morale and working conditions.

The difficult aspect is to keep it from seeming like a popularity contest, or a contrite effort from management who were coerced into it. On the other hand, you have the Millennial generation of workers who grew up receiving “participation trophies” just for showing up so no feelings would be hurt. Finding a middle ground that is genuine appreciation and recognition is not easy.

The nursing field is made up of a working staff that potentially ranges in age from novices in their early 20’s to seasoned nurses in their 70’s and 80’s and sometimes 90’s! One size doesn’t fit all. Nurses are professionals and need respect.

Cultivating bullies is no longer allowed

Management has always seemed to be comprised of people who don’t know how or don’t like to plan celebrations, often don’t say thank you for anything, and have great internal conflict with recognizing anyone who’s gone above and beyond for fear of crossing the line of being the boss and not wanting to be thought of as a peer. 

This is a behavior that’s cultivated and often takes a wrong turn towards becoming bullies. The best bullies have for far too long been valued as strong leaders because they can run a tight ship and get their staff to “obey.” As we fast forward to a generation that doesn’t care about how short stints of employment look on a resume, if they’re not happy they move on and retention of staff has hit crisis levels. Older generation nurses who have in the past put more value on loyalty are seeing the benefit in not allowing themselves to be stressed out and bullied. They too are moving on.

Money doesn’t make up for disrespect

Work-life balance is more important than money and money is no longer a Band-Aid for being treated poorly in the work place.  The responsibility of nursing is hard enough. Nurses would rather find something else; even outside of nursing. We have to stop that from happening. There aren’t enough nurses!

As employers face the reality of a true shortage of nurses, they cannot afford to 1) pay to hire and train nurses for them to leave in less than 2 years much less a few months; and 2) allow their reputations as terrible employers who bully their staff to spread like wildfire across social media. The world of healthcare has always been a small one, but now in the world of instant access to information, it’s a whole new ballgame and CEOs and managers are not prepared to take it on with their conventional ways. There are new rules to learn quickly. Nurses need positive influences and mentorship.

Challenges of recruitment and retainment of quality nurses

Recruiting nurses becomes more of a challenge than ever; especially well-educated and highly skilled nurses. Retaining quality staff is even harder. Engaging staff in the process is key to success by participating and taking ownership of recommending jobs to others, spreading the word on social media that this is a quality employer, and working together as a team to support each other instead of bullying takes a complete paradigm shift.

Nurses want respect from their employers - period! They require an understanding that family comes first. Their lives involve child care, elder care, self-care and they need a work-life balance; not tons of mandatory overtime to fill spaces for nurses their employer cannot retain. They want to be protected from violent patients and family members and bullying from doctors as well as patients and family members. Nurses became nurses to help people and make a difference in their patient’s lives; not to fight a literal war every time they come to work. The real job of being a nurse is difficult enough. Healthy, safe workplaces are essential.  

Recognition and Engagement are essential to TEAM building

Nurses don’t need another cup with the employers’ logo on it, or a pen, or a bag, or any other trinket that they really don’t need. These are trivial and sometimes downright insulting, and honestly just makes them part of the marketing plan instead of feeling valued.

Nurses need recognition and to be thanked for what they do. Not just a “participation trophy”; but an honest recognition that they made a difference and the went that extra mile. A genuine “thank you” would be so nice to hear. It costs nothing and yet it means so very much. Managers need to learn to just say thanks and recognize employees for all that they do to make a difference. Small steps and efforts will come back to them in big ways as staff return the respect and recognition.

Managers need to engage nurses and invite them to the table to discuss issues that involves them directly and not make them feel like they’re not part of the “club” so their opinions are meaningless. It takes a TEAM to deliver the best quality patient care and all members of the TEAM should be involved in at least some significant level of decision making about how the care is delivered.

Paradigm shift will bring improved conditions and ROI

Nurses need to be provided perks at work such as flexible schedules, realistic paid time off, child care options (that could greatly improve recruiting and retention as well as reduce call-offs), elder care options, and assistance with CEUs for nurses and all other healthcare professionals as well as tuition assistance for advanced education. Yes, this costs more than a coffee cup that can be bought in bulk for next to nothing, but they are INVESTMENTS in the company. And the ROI is significant! These perks will help to attract and retain quality staff who can then provide the very best quality patient care which in turn improves the bottom line. Managers and administrators who are willing to get their hands dirty and walk a mile in the shoes of their employees in the day to day operations can learn first-hand what their staff need how to improve their facilities and be able to recruit and retain the best staff. It’s time for employers to see the writing on the wall and READ it. Nurses have options and they aren’t afraid to use them. Patients also have options and they will go where they can get the best care. Recognition and engagement are keys to survival in highly competitive world of health care.