Healthy Workforce

3 Steps to a More Positive Workplace

Try these practical tips to dial back the negativity on your unit

Illustration of happy nurse in green scrubs with blackout nurses gossiping in the background

Lara was an ambitious and motivated recent graduate who began her nursing career excited about patient care and full of admiration for the nursing profession. However, her enthusiasm was quickly drained by the overwhelming negativity she experienced in her first job. Her coworkers constantly argued, gossiped, and complained about each other and their work. It seemed like nobody wanted to be there. Three months shy of her first year, Lara couldn’t take the hostility any longer and quit, abandoning nursing indefinitely.

One of the most common complaints we hear from healthcare leaders is that their employees are too negative: full of doom and gloom, always complaining and blaming each other. If this sounds like your workplace, the good news is that there’s something you can do about it.

The Negativity Bias

Humans have about 60,000 thoughts a day, and around 80 percent of those thoughts are negative! For many people, it’s easier to find fault than to note things that are right. On top of that, as nurses, we’re taught to look for warning signs of problems we need to fix.

Most of us are influenced by our environment and the attitudes of the people around us — particularly at work, where a gloomy atmosphere can sap the energy of even the most upbeat, enthusiastic employees.

Here are three surefire ways to reduce negativity at work:
  1. Shift your mindset away from blame. It’s easy to criticize others when something doesn’t go well. The next time you’re tempted to pile on the blame, take a step back and instead ask yourself how you can use the situation as an opportunity to improve and grow.
  2. Make positive recognition a habit. Praise is a powerful motivator, especially when it comes from a peer. Making a habit of thanking your coworkers and offering thoughtful compliments will improve everyone’s morale.
  3. Bookend your day with positivity. Each day, take a moment to connect with one person on your team when you arrive, and another on your way out. Address the person by name and say something kind to them. You could ask sincerely how they’re doing today, compliment their new shoes or new haircut, or mention something important to them (e.g., “How did your daughter do on her big test?”)
Nurse leaders, try these simple, practical strategies:
  1. Set CLEAR expectations for behaviors you do and don’t want to see. As the leader, it’s important that you set expectations for employee behavior. Gather your team together, explain that your goal is to create a positive work environment, and offer specific guidelines.
    For example:
    • When somebody says “Good morning,” say “Good morning” back.
    • Smile and make eye contact.
    • Don’t yell at or openly criticize coworkers. If you have a dispute, address it calmly and politely, out of earshot of others.
    • When somebody says “Good morning,” say “Good morning” back.
    • Smile and make eye contact.
    • Don’t yell at or openly criticize coworkers. If you have a dispute, address it calmly and politely, out of earshot of others.
  2. Start each meeting or huddle with something positive. Take a moment to recognize and celebrate your staff for constructive behaviors you want them to repeat. Be specific. For example, “Super shout-out to Carlos, who stayed four extra hours to help Katie, one of our new nurses.” If you don’t do huddles, find a reason every single day to pull your team together for this type of recognition or acknowledgment.
  3. Make your breakroom a “no complaining” zone. More and more employees tell me that they get no break because their breakroom is really a venting room where people go to complain and gossip. We all need a chance to let off steam, but everyone will benefit if the common areas are spaces for relaxing, not complaining. If your team struggles with this, try a more gradual transition, where staff asks anyone else who’s currently in the breakroom for the grace to vent for 30 seconds, then stops when their time is up.

If you have a downbeat workplace culture, you don’t have to accept the excuse, “That’s just the way it is here!” Adopting these simple strategies will create a happier, more productive workplace for everyone.

Nursing Education

RENEE THOMPSON, RN, DNP, CMSRN, is the CEO and founder of the Healthy Workforce Institute ( Reach her at .

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