Nurse leaders and team wellness

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Nurses take on a wide range of roles and responsibilities within their workplace, whether it be in basic patient care, or in surgery or emergency settings. They could be dealing with almost any situation from someone going through a mental health crisis, dealing with an accident, or the diagnosis of a serious illness. Throughout all of this, they will be working with other health professionals in their own team, different departments, or outside agencies, and acting as a support and point of contact for the patients’ families or carers. 

The day-to-day stresses of the job as well as managing the issues faced by clients and colleagues means that attention to good practices that highlight and maintain positive mental health is vital.

The importance of wellness

Employee wellness programs have been in use for many years, and in their most recognizable and modern form can be traced back to Johnson & Johnson’s Live for Live program introduced in 1979. Over time, the emphasis and importance of wellness has grown. According to a Workplace Wellness Programs study by the US Department of Labor and US Department of Health and Human Resources, 80% of US businesses with over 50 employees offer corporate wellness programs.

Nurse leaders make a big difference in the workplace culture and can drive positive changes. Having an effective leader that is respected and admired can boost morale and also promote a psychologically safe workplace, often leading to higher job satisfaction and retention rates. They are in a good position to liaise and drive wellness initiatives and strategies to help teams within the wider organization.

Wellness and wellbeing within the workplace

According to the Centre of Disease Control, wellbeing integrates mental and physical health, and it’s definition includes the presence of positive moods and emotions such as contentment and happiness, the absence of negative emotions including anxiety and depression, as well as satisfaction with life. 

Wellness is regarded as the act of doing healthy habits on a regular basis to achieve better physical and mental health outcomes. Some key areas include exercise, social connectedness, adequate sleep, nutrition, and mindfulness and each element of overall wellness has a distinct impact on both physical and mental health.

Employee wellness impacts the culture of a workplace, its productivity and resources, and is a hugely important to the success of any organization. It is one of the foundations for its strength and sustainability. The concept is not just about reducing absence from the workplace, but also about proactive encouragement of healthy lifestyles and attitudes, enabling individuals to make good choices about their own health. 

It’s crucial for employers, managers, and employees to have a stake in their wellness because the day-to-day costs of absenteeism and stress are high, and the benefits of attracting and keeping well-trained and highly motivated staff are obvious.

Generally, a wellness program is any organized activity within a workplace that is designed to improve the health and fitness of an employee. This can include health screenings, preventative care, and fitness programs among activities such as smoking cessation programs, wellness assessments, and stress management education.

These programs can improve health behaviors within the workforce, helping team members adopt healthy habits that will benefit all areas of their lives, both at work and home. This in turn can improve the physical and mental health of employees, reduce the risk of long-term health problems, and encourage them to feel more energized and happier throughout their workdays. All of this can help to increase productivity, morale, employee engagement, and overall attendance.

Retention, teamwork, and money-saving policies

Wellness programs can also drive towards savings for a company in the form of reduced healthcare costs, and also help towards improving teamwork. 

Within healthcare, the mental health of the workforce directly affects their ability to deal with their patients. Additionally, a paper published in the National Library of Medicine states that provider burnout will inevitably affect other members of the workforce.

Sources of stress within healthcare are many, interrelated, and include financial pressures that affect workload and staffing. There is pressure to provide quality patient care while at the same time dealing with increased workload. Plus, there is sometime limited time to deal with clients, and other external factors that affect healthcare executives too.

Due to the knock-on effect of stress and its effect on performance and worker retention, numerous wellbeing initiatives have been and are put in place to deal with this issue. They are implemented by both academic institutions and healthcare organizations, designed to improve the wellbeing of individuals and organizational resilience.

Nurse leaders and managers must also think about their attitude to wellness. According to a 2017 survey by Nursing Management, two of the top three most stressful work activities were related to dealing with disciplinary issues and maintaining staffing levels adequately and safely. Additionally, navigating organizational politics and culture was reported as a stress factor too. 

In answer to the question, what brings us joy in the workplace, the most popular was “hearing compliments about my team,” and “taking pride in my workplace/organization.” Mentoring others came high on the list too.

The National Plan for Health Workforce Wellbeing published by the National Academy of Medicine illustrates the importance of wellbeing strategies. It is designed to inspire collective action that focuses on the changes needed across the health system to improve the wellbeing of the workforce. The goal is that patients will be cared for by a workforce that is thriving in an environment that fosters their wellbeing, as they in turn improve the health of the general population, enhance the care experience, reduce costs, and advance health equity.

Strategies to improve wellness

Examples of strategies and activities that can improve wellness and wellbeing include encouraging staff to exercise regularly and eat healthily. For example, the American Nurses Association recommends that nurses should limit their intake of caffeine, schedule regular mealtimes, and restrict snacking from vending machines.

According to Workhuman in conjunction with Gallup, organizations with a recognition-led wellness program found that their employees are up to 90% less likely to report being burned out at work ‘always’ or ‘very often’, and twice as likely to evaluate their lives and futures positively. Furthermore, employees who lack a strong sense of belonging are up to 12 times more likely to feel disengaged, and five times more likely to be looking for another job.

Overall, the everyday effect of wellness programs within the workplace provides many opportunities to redirect the sentiment and culture of the people within that workplace.

Meditation and wellness

There are many ways to improve physical and mental wellbeing, whether it be through diet, exercise, or training. Focusing on one technique as an example, many employers offer subscriptions to meditation apps and research shows this can help reduce stress and anxiety, as well as enhance mood, promote healthy sleep patterns and boost cognitive skills. This can make a difference to the levels of negative emotions related to tasks and workplace culture.  

Some forms of meditation can also lead to a more positive outlook on life, with those practicing it experiencing a reduction in negative thoughts and developing a stronger understanding of themselves. There can also be improvements in the length and focus of an individual’s attention-span, and an improvement in sleep patterns though the ability to relax, releasing tension and placing practitioners in a peaceful state which can facilitate better sleep.

Meditation can also be done anywhere, with no special equipment or surroundings. Someone could meditate while walking, during a break, or within a studio, if that works for them. 

The role of the nurse leader

Nurse leaders and managers are responsible for a team of nurses, aim to maintain organizational structure, provide patient care, and also help to develop improved procedures and processes. They are often promoted into leadership roles from traditional nursing jobs after developing the relevant skills and gaining the right experience. Nurse leaders often work with administrative teams and don’t interact with patients as often as other nurses. 

Some of their duties will include setting standards, overseeing the implementation of new procedures, liaising with stakeholders, and evaluating processes. They make a big difference in workplace culture and can drive positive changes. A strong nurse leader can boost morale within a team and promote a safe workplace, leading to higher job satisfaction and staff retention rates.

Nurse leaders and managers can play an important role in preventing burnout with their colleagues and staff. Improving open communication by arranging regular meetings to discuss the job, its demands, and ideas to boost wellbeing, will mean issues can be aired and dealt with and support given where necessary. Other ways to improve communication include regular surveys, performance reviews, and group meetings.

Introducing resilience training is also helpful as it encourages healthcare workers to learn to adapt to stress. Programs that incorporate psychological resilience techniques can provide nurses with tactics and strategies that help prevent stress, depression, and anxiety. 

Promoting self-awareness and emotional intelligence through a series of training programs is also a useful way of improving wellness as these are skills and knowledge that nurses often use within work situations. Encouraging staff to practice meditation will also lower stress levels within the workforce.

A balance between work and life is important for all workers, including healthcare staff. Organizing social activities can promote better interaction between staff and in turn improve wellbeing. Some group activity ideas include weekly competitions, fundraising drives, theme days, and workplace awards. 

Nurse leaders and managing teams

Becoming a nursing leader encompasses many roles and responsibilities. Learning how to motivate, support, and lead teams is crucial to be effective. Gaining the right qualifications will not only provide students with the skills-based knowledge required for a career within healthcare but will also give insights and guidance on the soft-skills needed to be an effective team member and leader.

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) at Spring Arbor University is a practice-focused educational pathway that covers topics within nursing leadership and management, including evidence-based practice, quality improvement, organizational change, and systems leadership. When leading change or improving systems, such as introducing or supporting wellness initiatives within a team or department, an understanding of some of the techniques and strategies that can be used is crucial. These soft skills are also included in DNP curriculums. Spring Arbor University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice prepares candidates to lead in the navigation of complex and challenging healthcare environments and educate fellow nurses.

How to make and manage positive changes

Change is not always seen as a positive thing, even if the aim is to improve a work culture to the betterment of employees and colleagues. So, there are things that can be considered when managing changes, such as highlighting strategies and activities that promote wellness and wellbeing. These can include:

  • Ensuring a team knows what will remain the same, to keep a sense of familiarity.
  • Emphasizing that management or nurse leaders are open to suggestions regarding any initiatives.
  • Sharing resources that will be available to help facilitate the change.
  • Make sure leaders know what they want to accomplish with any new initiatives, making it easier to communicate objectives.
  • Engage and empower the team, ensuring there is constructive two-way communication.
  • Decide on how the positive effects of the changes will be measured and ensure the team are aware of them.

In any case, there are many skills required of a nurse leader, and those skills will enhance communication within a team and beyond that.

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