Cultivating a culture of caring and resilience

Deirdre O’Flaherty |

As leaders, we set the tone.

Cultivating a culture of caring and resilience

Establishing a caring culture for employees fosters a culture of caring for patients. It starts with respectful communication and meaningful interaction.

Deirdre O’FlahertyAny opportunity for meaningful communication is an opportunity to coach, mentor, and build relationships. Communication that is open, transparent, and timely is essential for creating a safe environment where employees can share ideas and feel comfortable reporting issues. It is important to realize the significance of our conversations and the impact they can have. Words are powerful, and a culture that fosters respectful interaction is a culture that supports a healthy work environment.

In 2017, the American Nurses Association launched its Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Grand Challenge, an initiative to transform health in the United States by improving the health of its nurses. I believe our commitment to promoting the wellness of our nation’s nurses should include improving the health of their environments—both personal and professional. Our spaces should be healthy spaces. Respectful communication and meaningful interaction are the foundation of a healthy workplace. As leaders, we set the tone. By setting the right tone and using the power of words to inspire us to achieve wellness and positively impact our environment, we empower our teams.

Positive relationships begin with the interview
Developing a good relationship with people who may become members of your team starts with your first conversation—before they become team members. Because first impressions often last the longest, pre-employment interviews are an ideal time to get what may become a permanent relationship with you and the team off on the right foot. Interviews are an excellent opportunity to begin instilling in the minds of potential employees that the work environment they may become part of is one of shared decision-making and collaboration. And, of course, not only are you interviewing the candidate, he or she is also interviewing you and your team while checking out the facility. As with a first date, is there positive chemistry? If the person is hired, will the mix be right for everyone on the team?

Providing an accurate picture of the team and the work environment is important for the candidate, and understanding how that person will fit with the existing team is helpful in making the right hiring decision. By including team members in the process, you communicate that they are valued and their opinions count while giving you the opportunity to observe interaction between the candidate and the team.

Rounding does more than communicate clinical information
I often think back on a nurse leader I consider a role model. Early in my career, when I was embarking on my first leadership role, we did rounds together. I was impressed not only with her clinical skills and expertise but also her knowledge of every staff member at our hospital, even those in departments other than nursing. The interest she conveyed to each person was sincere, impressive, and so very important to that individual. 

When they were asked a question or given an opportunity to state their opinion, their pride was evident. It was quite common for her to stop and chat with employees—to ask how they were feeling or how everything was going. When she inquired about family members or recent events, such as graduations and weddings, they felt special and cared for. Her genuine interest in them fostered incredible loyalty, so if a request to work an additional shift or go the extra mile came from her office, it was rarely denied. 

I recall comments she made to a clinical nurse who had been asked to participate on the hospital’s informatics committee. Masterfully, she expressed gratitude to the nurse for sharing her knowledge and opinions with the committee. She then told the nurse how important her input was—that it was essential in moving the project forward. The conversation took place in the nursing station at a shift change, so several staff members observed and heard the interaction. Everyone took notice, and the nurse she thanked had a beaming smile. In addition to giving staff members the opportunity to learn more about our plans to update the electronic medical record, it opened the door to discussing other plans and sharing information. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but this was engagement, employee recognition, and structural empowerment in action.

Caring for staff members translates to caring for patients
The nurse leader mentioned above demonstrated that establishing a caring culture for employees fosters a culture of caring for patients. Through words and actions, she communicated to us that it is OK to care—that showing fellow employees we are interested in their personal life events creates an atmosphere of caring that extends to patients. Patients are not simply a diagnosis—“the diabetic in 202”—but an actual person who is often afraid and needs reassurance. Such a mindset fosters empathy and nurtured healing.

She was smart. By establishing the right tone and promoting a caring culture, which she reinforced with role modeling, she helped empower our teams to exhibit a culture of caring. She demonstrated transactional and transformational leadership that promoted development of authenticity, caring, and resilience. In the respectful work environment she helped cultivate through her leadership, employees were valued and felt they belonged, the nursing team was engaged, and nurse retention was high.

Bonus tips
Be true to yourself and accept who you are as a person. Yes, we need to be strong, stay calm, and maintain composure in stressful situations, but it’s OK to show emotion. Leaders also need to share their feelings and rely on others. Authenticity in leadership allows you to recognize the unique value of each individual. Awareness of individual strengths helps in building teams and forging collaboration.

Let your team members know how important they are to the overall mission, vision, and values of the organization. It can make a huge difference. Communicate expectations, provide feedback, and invest in relationships. All of these contribute to successful leadership. One more thing: Acknowledge stressors. Nursing is not easy, and creating a caring environment that recognizes this helps foster the resilience that is essential to success.

The healthcare environment is dynamic. So is resilience. By creating a theoretical framework of resilience, nurse leaders facilitate professional development that fosters satisfaction, engagement, and staff retention while reducing adversity. The role of nurse manager is pivotal to achieving goals, developing teams, and aligning staff members with the organization’s purpose, which in turn fosters more resilience.

Nursing is demanding. Leading a staff is challenging. Cultivating a culture of caring and resilience promotes a healthy environment and helps optimize workforce performance. RNL

Deirdre O’Flaherty, DNP, RN, APN-BC, NE-BC, ONC, is senior administrative director, patient care services, surgical nursing, and orthopedic program coordinator at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, NY, USA.

Editor’s note: Deirdre O’Flaherty will present a session titled “Cultivating a Culture of Resilience: A Nursing Leadership Initiative,” on Friday, 20 April, at Nursing Education Research Conference 2018 in Washington, D.C.

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