Can Nurses Who Work Together Be Friends? Yes!


Can Nurses Who Work Together Be Friends? Yes!

They understand you and provide emotional support

By By Daria Waszak, RN, MSN, CEN, COHN-S
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Five years ago, Janae Jones, RN, BSN, CCRN, faced one of the toughest shifts of her career: While she was working as a staff nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit, one of her patients died. “It was a sad day,” says Jones, who is now a clinical nurse educator at Loma Linda University Medical Center and Children’s Hospital. “The patient was a teenage girl. Life support had been removed after she was declared brain dead.”

Fortunately, Jones’ coworkers were there to get her through it. After the patient’s family said their final goodbyes and left, the relief charge nurse and circulating nurse helped Jones take care of the patient. The nurses then approached Jones and asked if she wanted to get together after work. She joined her coworkers for dinner, as she knew she needed to decompress. They talked about appreciating life, their friends and their loved ones. It was just what Jones needed to lift the emotional burden. 

“It really helped to have friends with shared experiences, without the need to explain why my day was bad,” Jones says. “They just understood and were there for me. Instead of going home to an empty house and stewing over my day on the long drive home, I was able to process those feelings and let it go.”

Workplace friendships can reduce workplace stress and have many positive affects for both the employees and organization. “Research conducted by the Gallup Organization showed that one of the 12 traits of highly productive workgroups was the item, ‘I have a best friend at work,’” says Sonia Ramos Lane, RN, MSN, the director of critical care services at UC Irvine Medical Center. “The development of trusting relationships is a significant emotional compensation for employees. Employees who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged with the job.”

The latest findings of this Gallup study, “The State of the American Workplace: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders,” show that 70 percent of workers are “not engaged” or are “actively disengaged” at work. That lack of engagement adversely affects productivity, costing U.S. businesses between $450 and $550 billion each year in turnover, workplace errors and lawsuits. Hospitals have every incentive to create a harmonious workplace conducive to strong friendships.

“I think friendships with coworkers and fellow nurses are one of the most important things you can do to prevent burnout,” says Jones. “I work in an environment that can be very stressful. Having those friends that are at your side, helping you through the shift, or who are there to sympathize at the end of the day is crucial to letting the stress go at the end of the day.”

Is it hard for nurses to become friends? LeVell Romeyn of City of Hope’s Nursing Recruitment/Development team believes that the area where the nurse works has an impact. “Friends can help blow off steam and process your workday. ER nurses deal with trauma, develop more camaraderie and need that level of understanding. Rehab nurses develop that friendship, too.”

Jones couldn’t agree more about working in the PICU. “The delights of having workplace friendships are having friends to go out with at the end of a long day, friends that you can call to vent — even if it’s their day off — and a group of friends that won’t get sick when you are talking about the dark side of nursing at dinner,” she explains. “You always have someone that understands what you are going through because they have probably been in a similar situation.”

Lane also values having coworkers as friends outside of the workplace. “I have maintained friendships I developed with some of my coworkers during the earlier part of my career as a staff nurse,” she says. “A friend and I try to meet for lunch and talk about family and sometimes work issues. We continue to support each other professionally and personally.”

In a 2006 study published by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, more than 4,000 RNs rated their interactions with other nurses. At least 68 percent of those nurses rated communication, collaboration and respect as excellent or good.
There’s a longstanding assumption that interactions between nurses involve rolling eyes, gossiping, intimidation or criticism, particularly of new nurses — that nurses “eat their young.” Does that concept still exist?

“Not anymore. It’s getting better and better,” says Leilani Patacsil, RN, BSN, MBA, of City of Hope’s Nursing Recruitment/Development team. “New grads were discouraged and not getting the support that they need. Now, nurses are realizing they need to support those grads. It boosts morale and helps the organization as a whole.”

Teresa McCormac, who works with Romeyn and Patacsil (the three call themselves “BFFs”), explains that today’s new grads never complain about how they are being treated by other nurses. “It was really bad about 10 years ago,” McCormac adds. “It changed because of leaders — how they see it and how they are running their staff.”

Maegan Shaver, RN, BSN, 24, was a new grad not too long ago. She has worked in neonatal intensive care at Children’s Hospital of Orange County for a year and a half and has had no complaints about more senior nurses “eating their young.”
“Being a younger nurse and a recent addition, I feel this myth is truly theory,” Shaver adds. “I felt the NICU nurses really wanted me to do well and succeed once I was on my own after the residency program.”

Shaver says she has several friends in the workplace and enjoys going out for lunch or dinner, running and shopping. “I do believe nurses can be friends with coworkers outside of the workplace because much of a nurses’ time is spent with peers at work,” she says. “Those peer relationships turn into friendships.”

In the Division of Rehabilitation Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, former new nurses go out of their way to connect with new nurses and make them feel at ease during their first days on the job.

“As a practice in my work area, we have former new nurses make the new nurses welcome cards to help them feel extra supported,” says Phan Dang, RN, the unit’s nurse manager. “This lets them know we are excited to work with them. We welcome nurses with open arms and nurture and guide them until they have a strong foundation to be independent.”

Even if coworkers have a good working relationship, it may be challenging for nurses to develop friendships when working three days a week or variable or per diem work shifts. “For those that work a 12-hour shift, it may not be conducive to friendships,” Romeyn says, noting that nurses who work in the same unit “may not see each other for weeks.” Nurses may also have difficulty even finding time to chat when they are busy throughout their shifts and must take turns taking a break or even miss their breaks.

It’s in situations like these that team building — activities designed to bond individuals as interdependent team members — is most important. “City of Hope has so many things to keep people engaged,” says McCormac, adding that the hospital has a plethora of offerings from Zumba classes to diversity and cultural activities. The ER nurses even have a softball team.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles also encourages nurses to team-build. “Here on my unit, we have multiple potlucks throughout the year to celebrate each others’ milestones or accomplishments,” Dang says. “In addition, we have yearly holiday parties outside of work.”

Dang enjoys being able to connect with the other nurses with whom she has so much in common. “The ability to network and knowing that we do work in different areas, but we all think the same,” she says. “We love what we do and we love working with our friends — being able to share work stories without being judged.”

Jones explains that at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, collaboration occurs during annual competencies where nurses deal with mock codes in their simulation center. “It was amazing to watch across shifts and experience levels how our groups came together as a team to take care of the patient,” she says. “There are not any specific team-building activities that we do, but every day, every shift, we work as a team.”

While the benefits of friendships are many, fallout may ensue if problems such as favoritism, conflicts of interest, harassment or even romance develop. Uncomfortable scenarios can occur if a nurse becomes privy to information about a coworker friend not performing effectively or ethically on the job. This can quickly turn into a professional and social dilemma. 

“Can nurses be friends? Yes,” says McCormac, “but they should take precautions. "Socializing in a casual atmosphere outside of the workplace can make employees feel safer, let their guard down, and open up towards one another. However, Romeyn warns, “It can get out of hand. It can depend on the individual. Once they go outside of the unit, they feel free to talk.”

Although friendships can help nurses bond, it can also isolate coworkers if they are excluded. “One of the difficulties I see with workplace friendships is a perception of cliques and people feeling left out if they are not included in a group,” says Jones.
It is essential to keep friendships in perspective; your coworker today may be your boss tomorrow. However, workplace friendships can occur even with direct reports.

“From my personal experience, this only happens if my supervisor and I have great chemistry and understanding,” Dang says. “I personally love it because I feel that I can come to her with almost anything and know that she will listen. However, it is important to be mindful of what is said because there is a professional relationship that must be nurtured.”

Can friendships with your supervisor really be appropriate and successful? “Yes, as long as all parties understand the nature of the relationships, maintain professionalism, establish boundaries and observe them,” Lane says. “The manager must treat all employees fairly and avoid even the impression of favoritism. One of my nurse managers socializes with her staff outside of the workplace and the other nurse managers have chosen not to. All of them have highly engaged employees.”

Jones agrees that a friendship with your boss is possible, but has to be approached with delicacy. “I don’t see a problem with being friends with your supervisor, though I think that relationship will never be quite the same as one with your peers,” she explains. “I think supervisors can be great supporters and mentors in a friendship role. You probably shouldn’t share everything with them — nor should they share everything with you — but I don’t feel like that prevents a friendship.”

A recent study conducted by Millennial Branding of 4 million people aged 18–29 revealed that this age group adds an average of 16 coworkers to their “friends” list on Facebook.

“I am friends with coworkers on Facebook,” says Shaver. “It has only been a benefit to be friends with certain coworkers on Facebook because you get to see them outside of the workplace, interacting with their families.”

Maintaining boundaries may be challenging enough in person, but those considerations can be easy to ignore when communicating remotely using social media. Even posting a photo from a day of fun day of activities that seems innocent enough can cause strife if coworkers realize it was from a day the nurse called in sick.

“You can be friends with colleagues on social media outlets, but it is important to be mindful of what you share because you don’t want to compromise your professional relationship,” Dang says.

As in face-to-face interaction, the keys to successful online workplace friendships are discretion and being mindful of what you say and do. That means be respectful, be kind and avoid gossiping.

“I think nurses can be friends with coworkers or supervisors on social media with the understanding of the responsibility that comes with it,” Lane says. “Nurses or any workplace members are expected to adhere to their institution’s policy, if any, on social networking. When using or participating in social media, nurses must respect patients’ and coworkers’ confidentiality, privacy and security.”

A nursing director, a nursing manager, a nursing recruitment/development team, a recent new RN grad and an experienced staff nurse all agree: Friendships in the healthcare workplace are constructive and should be encouraged. They can help reduce workplace stress, increase communication, improve productivity and increase employee engagement, to name a few of the benefits. Friendships help nurses be nurses.

“The benefits far outweigh any fallout,” Lane says. “As a nurse working full time, I spend a lot of time at the workplace. The friendships provide support and an atmosphere of camaraderie in the workplace. If any of the staff nurses in my department is asked the reason why he or she stays, the top reason will be because of the people he or she works with.

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