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6 Strategies for Nursing Leaders to Create a Healthy Work Environment in Nursing

A healthy work environment in nursing should do more than keep nurses safe from harm. According to the World Health Organization, healthy workplaces promote and maintain “the highest degree” of employees’ physical, mental, and social well-being.

As the largest segment of the healthcare workforce, nurses have tremendous influence on patient care and healthcare systems. Creating a healthy work environment in nursing is essential because it enables better care and organizational success.

Healthy workplaces for nurses foster collaboration, communication, and accountability. They promote continuous learning and recognize nurses for their value and contributions. Strong leadership is at the heart of these efforts.

This blog post introduces nursing leaders to six practical strategies for creating positive workplaces for nurses. You'll also learn how nursing leaders can grow the competencies needed to lead transformation in the nursing work environment and beyond.

Why Is Facilitating a Healthy Work Environment in Nursing Important?

Nursing leaders are vital in shaping the nursing work environment. Their actions and behaviors influence organizational culture, policies, and practices.

When nursing leaders foster communication, teamwork, and professional autonomy, they help create a healthy workplace where nurses feel safe, supported, and satisfied.

A healthy work environment in nursing has a far-reaching impact, including positive outcomes for patients and healthcare organizations.

Supporting Nurse Well-being

According to the latest Critical Care Nurse Work Environment Study, nurses with a healthy work environment are less likely to experience moral distress and burnout. They also report greater feelings of physical and psychological safety.

Nurses who feel burned out are more likely to leave their jobs, make medical errors, and have substance abuse disorders.

Creating a positive work environment that supports nurses' physical, mental, and emotional health cultivates well-being. As a result, nurses' job satisfaction and performance improve.

Enabling Positive Patient Outcomes

Nurses are integral across the continuum of healthcare. By protecting nurses’ well-being, healthy workplaces also support positive patient outcomes.

Healthy work environments in nursing are associated with greater patient satisfaction and fewer patient readmissions. Conversely, unhealthy workplaces can increase patient mortality and adverse events.

When workplaces create a healthy work environment for nurses, they contribute to better patient care.

Ensuring Organizational Success

Healthy work environments ensure organizations thrive. Fostering nurse well-being enables nurses to provide high-quality care. High-quality care leads to positive patient outcomes. Together, these factors contribute to organizational success.

For example, creating a positive work environment improves nurse satisfaction and job performance, which enhances nurse staffing and retention. Nurses who provide high-quality care increase patient satisfaction, directly impacting business objectives related to patient loyalty and risk management.

Nurse well-being, patient care, and organizational success are interdependent—and positive outcomes start with a healthy work environment in nursing.

Strategy #1: Embrace Open Communication

Approximately one-third of nurses who responded to the American Nurses Foundation 2022 Workplace Survey said their organization could improve their job satisfaction by listening and responding to their feedback and needs. It was the third most common answer, aside from improving compensation and increasing the number of nurses and support staff.

Effective nursing leaders promote open communication in a healthy nursing work environment. Open communication is characterized by transparency and honesty, encouraging nurses to express themselves without fear of reprisal.

Nursing leaders aim to facilitate open communication by:

  • Encouraging nurses to share their diverse perspectives through formal feedback sessions, town hall meetings, and open-door policies.
  • Listening to nurses’ feedback and finding solutions that achieve the desired outcomes.
  • Communicating action plans that address feedback.
  • Demonstrating and promoting respect for others to build consensus.

Strategy #2: Provide Resources that Enable Quality Nursing

The ongoing nurse shortage means that many nurses have heavy workloads. A high nursing workload can lead to stress and burnout, which can affect nurses’ motivation and focus in providing high-quality care. 

Nursing leaders can ensure nurse and patient well-being by alleviating the negative effects of heavy nurse workloads.

Removing the source of excessive workloads is ideal. Nursing leaders should advocate for and work towards achieving adequate nurse staffing. However, balancing out the negative effects of heavy workloads can also make a meaningful difference. This means providing resources that help nurses carry out their duties safely and effectively, such as:

  • Ongoing training and education in time management and stress reduction techniques.
  • Access to mental health support services.
  • Programs focused on physical, mental, and emotional wellness and encouraging healthy habits.
  • A physical work environment that is clean, organized, and well-maintained.
  • Technology solutions that automate or streamline administrative tasks.

Strategy #3: Recognize Nurse Achievements

A healthy work environment in nursing is one where nursing leaders acknowledge and honor nurses for their achievements.

Recognition and rewards foster a sense of appreciation and camaraderie, boosting motivation and morale. For example, 70% of critical care nurses who reported wanting to leave their current position said “meaningful recognition” could make them stay.

Recognition is meaningful when it's individualized to the recipient and clearly expresses how the nurse made a difference through their action or behavior.

Meaningful ways for nursing leaders to recognize nurse achievements include:

  • Implementing formal processes for recognizing nurses year-round, such as daily gratitude huddles and nurse award nominations.
  • Rewarding nurses with non-compensation incentives, like continuing education, research grants, and extra time off.
  • Acknowledging nurses publicly in front of their peers or appropriate public or organizational media.

Strategy #4: Empower Nurses

Nurses feel valued for their strengths and contributions in a healthy nursing work environment. This results from nursing leaders who empower nurses, equipping them with a sense of ownership and accountability in their roles.

Empowering nurses contributes to individual job satisfaction and organizational success. Research shows that empowerment enhances employee engagement, performance, and retention.

To empower nurses, nursing leaders can:

  • Define clear roles and responsibilities so that nurses understand their expectations.
  • Encourage nurses to participate in decision-making and contribute their ideas.
  • Provide nurses with support, resources, and opportunities for professional development.
  • Enhance accountability by facilitating increased professional responsibility or delegation.
  • Acknowledge the value of work-life balance and its impact on nurses’ well-being.

Strategy #5: Champion Teamwork

Teamwork is central to positive healthcare environments. It influences patient outcomes, employee satisfaction, and the effectiveness and efficiency of healthcare delivery.

When teams of healthcare providers work together, healthcare quality, safety, and employee satisfaction improve. Effective teamwork also creates an environment where nurses feel supported to develop in their professional practice.

Nursing leaders promote teamwork through accountability, collaboration, and respect:

  • Acting with high integrity and holding others accountable for the same.
  • Encouraging employees to be equal partners in healthcare across departments and teams.
  • Creating opportunities for employees to grow their relationships outside of work.
  • Celebrating team successes and the collective effort behind achieving shared goals.

Strategy #6: Address Conflict

Every workplace has some level of conflict. Nurses have a risk of experiencing incivility, bullying, and violence by patients and their family members. They may also face disagreements with other members of the healthcare team.

Nurses’ perceptions of workplace conflict depend on nursing leaders’ ability to manage it effectively. Evidence shows that nurses in supportive work environments report less incivility at work.

Conflict in the nursing work environment can negatively affect nurse welfare and patient outcomes. That’s why it’s imperative for nursing leaders to proactively address and resolve conflict by:

  • Communicating the expectations for acceptable behavior.
  • Establishing clear policies and procedures for conflict resolution.
  • Promoting open and respectful dialogue, active listening, and empathy.
  • Providing training and education in conflict resolution.
  • Modeling positive behavior, including clear communication and teamwork.

Advance Nursing Excellence as a Doctorally-Prepared Nurse Executive through Baylor University Online

Nursing leaders are pivotal in developing and maintaining practice environments that promote optimal outcomes for nurses, patients, and organizations. A healthy nursing work environment empowers and supports nurses, enabling positive patient outcomes and organizational success.

Are you a nursing leader who wants to grow your nursing leadership? Pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) will prepare you with the advanced knowledge and leadership competencies to advance excellence in professional nursing practice.

Baylor University offers an online DNP Executive Nurse Leadership (DNP-ENL) program focused on influential leadership, data-driven business strategy, and transformative care models.

“If you want to excel as a nurse leader/executive, this program is suited for you,” said Ardel Guillamas Avelino, a Baylor online DNP-ENL graduate. “It will transform you into a bold, decisive, and exceptional leader [with] the aptitude to impact your organization, community, and the nursing profession.”

Students in Baylor’s online DNP-ENL program develop advanced business acumen and leadership skills while creating a network of colleagues and mentors. As graduates, they are prepared to influence organizational decisions and change.

The program provides nursing leaders with flexibility, allowing them to continue working full-time and apply what they learn immediately to the real world. Coursework is 100% online with no required campus visits. Students can also complete their doctoral projects locally.

If you're interested in advancing your leadership in nursing, explore how a DNP-ENL from Baylor can help you meet your goals.

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