Healthy work environments for nurses lead to better patient outcomes. In healthy work environments, nurses feel cared for and valued. Nurse leaders play an outsized role in creating a culture of caring, but may not understand what specific tactics help nurses feel cared for. This post breaks down twelve research-backed behaviors nurse leaders can practice to create a more caring environment.
Caring environments matter because in hospitals where nurses are more satisfied with their jobs, patients’ risk of death is significantly lower. For example, patients in hospitals with poor work environments had a 16% lower chance of surviving in-hospital cardiac arrests than patients in hospitals with better work environments.
Unsurprisingly, nurses’ job satisfaction is correlated with nurse retention. Nursing turnover costs hospitals $3.6M to $6.5M per year, raising the cost of healthcare overall.
Nurses’ stress levels are strongly correlated with the number of assigned patients. However, when nurses perceived a more caring environment, even with high patient loads, they reported less stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. A culture of caring can buffer nurse stress, even when workloads are high.
Leaders have an outsize impact on whether a work environment is healthy. There is a significant correlation between the quality of nurse-manager relationships, nurse job satisfaction, and retention.
However, there is a disconnect between managers’ perceptions of themselves and how their staff perceives them. Nurse managers may believe they are creating a positive culture when in fact their efforts are ineffective. Luckily, there are specific caring behaviors that nurse managers can do to improve frontline nurses’ perceptions of their leadership and caring.
Caring behaviors include:
- Debriefing after a patient death
- Making sure staff get meal breaks
- Flexible working arrangements
- Calling employees by name
- Making eye contact
- Telling nurses they are valuable to the organization
- Soliciting feedback
- Consistent communication
- Advocating for staff
- Being visible
- Creating inclusive celebrations
Nurse managers can implement some of these tactics immediately (like learning and using nurses’ names), while others require time (like consistent communication). Hospital leaders can incorporate these tactics into nurse manager education, to improve nurse and patient outcomes more broadly.
This post draws heavily from Staff Nurse Perceptions of Manager Caring Behaviors: A Scoping Study by Kelley Kostich, Sue Lasiter, and Renee Gorrell, published in The Journal of Nursing Administration in May 2020, as well as from The State of the Science of Nurse Work Environments in the United States: A Systematic Review by Holly Wei, Kerry Sewell, Gina Woody, and Mary Ann Rose published in The International Journal of Nursing Sciences in April 2018.
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