A Kindness Revolution!

Seven Ways to Build Happier and Healthier Nursing Teams

Illustration of three nurses in scrubs smiling and wrapping their arms around one another

The past few years have been the most stressful and challenging in most of our lifetimes. When COVID-19 hit, healthcare teams were called upon to save the world, and they did. But external stressors caused many nurses to react in ways that were not healthy. We saw an uptick in disruptive behaviors, fighting within teams, and a major surge in burnout and nurses leaving the profession.

One thing the pandemic taught us is that working together as strong, cohesive teams is essential to surviving otherwise insurmountable stressors. The best way to do that is to adopt a proactive rather than reactive mindset.

Here are seven ways to build healthier, happier and more proactive nursing teams:

No. 1  Be An “Upstander”

When people are stressed out and burned out, they lash out. Although it’s understandable that a coworker might yell at or openly criticize their peer in front of others, it’s still not acceptable. The No. 1 most powerful intervention to stop the cycle of bullying and incivility is for the witnesses to speak up. However, so often, we see cruelty and yet stand by and do nothing. Worse, many just walk away.

During one huddle, a nurse acted inappropriately towards the charge nurse when told they would be taking overflow patients from another unit. The nurse adamantly refused, and yelled at the charge nurse in front of everyone in the patient care hallway.

Yet, nobody said a word — not even the manager, who was also present.

Incivility that goes unchallenged tends to continue or escalate. This year, make the commitment to speak up any time you witness cruelty towards a coworker. Be an “upstander,” not a bystander!

If you don’t know what to say, it can be as simple as, “Stop. It’s not okay the way you’re treating ____.”

No. 2  Be Positive

Humans are negative by nature. We think 60,000 thoughts a day, and 80 percent of them are negative. This “negativity bias” helps keep us alert to potential threats. Think about people who work in healthcare: We are always assessing for anything that seems wrong so that we can intervene and save someone’s life. It often takes less energy for us to identify what’s wrong, or to criticize, than to praise and support.

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Unfortunately, too much negativity can make it hard to see anything positive in the world, giving rise to gossipers, complainers and Debbie Downers who make everyone miserable.

To counter this negativity, we need to amp up our positive messaging: 

  • Start every meeting with something uplifting.
  • Increase the frequency with which you praise and support employees and leaders.
  • Find reasons to celebrate everything you can.
  • Make a point every day to compliment your coworkers to their faces AND behind their backs.
  • Shut down complaining by sharing good things happening in your department.
  • Go out of your way to spread joyful news.

No. 3  Be Thoughtful

If stress and negativity are contagious, then so are kindness and caring. Random acts of kindness have been shown to create more happiness for the person giving than the person receiving. Therefore, it stands to reason that more joy can be created among the team in the same way.

Why not start a “kindness revolution” in your department? Your teams will thank you!

Buy a coworker a cup of good coffee and put it on his or her desk. I’m a huge notecard fan; why not find an inspirational notecard and give it to a coworker who might not expect it? You can also boost morale by cleaning up the break room (including that awful, disgusting microwave) even if you didn’t create the mess.

When COVID-19 hit and schools were starting to close, a nurse shared with her coworkers her concern that she had nobody to care for her children that week. She was distraught and didn’t know what she would do. Two other nurses, who didn’t have children, got together with her, looked at all their schedules and rearranged their hours so that she could be home until she found childcare. That’s showing kindness to someone in need.

Do something every day to be thoughtful towards a coworker — especially the cranky ones who need it most.

No. 4  Be Fun

Nursing is one of the most stressful professions in the world. Life and death situations happen every day, without warning. The unpredictability of our work can lead to stress and burnout. Yet, we do an inadequate job teaching nurses good coping mechanisms.

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Did you know that laughter is THE BEST way to decrease stress? When we laugh, we release feel-good chemicals that flood our brains with joyfulness, helping to counteract the effects of cortisol and other stress hormones. Better still, laughing is free.

Find ways to inject humor (appropriate humor) and reasons to laugh into your workplace.

When Monica, a staff nurse, walks into her department at the start of her shift, she arrives singing and dancing. Everyone in earshot laughs and starts dancing with her (well, not everyone dances!).

No. 5  Be Tolerant

It’s so easy to get offended by what people say or write, especially on social media. This year, make an effort to lighten up a bit. Refuse to allow yourself to be aggrieved by others or be sucked into the vortex of critical gossip and backbiting. Instead, seek to understand others’ points of view and opinions, or else just ignore them and let it go.

The strongest and most cohesive teams are diverse ones whose members can bring different perspectives to the work. Being different is a good thing!

No. 6  Be A Role Model

Especially if you’ve been a nurse for a long time, you should think about the legacy you want to leave when you’re no longer practicing. Be that nurse now. Show up every day ready and willing to do everything in your power to epitomize professionalism, collaborative communication and what team cohesion really looks like.

As they say, “Be the type of nurse you want to work with.” Don’t wait — start now, and also try to be the type of teammate you want in your unit.

No. 7  Be Appreciative

According to Sarah McVanel, M.Sc., founder of Greatness Magnified, teams often miss the opportunity to truly connect with each other by engaging in meaningful recognition. In her LinkedIn article, “Why We Don’t Recognize In Organizations and How to Change That,” she says that when she asks audiences what forms of recognition they most appreciate, the most common answers are:

  • Thank me (95 percent)
  • Tell me specifically what I’m doing well (92 percent)
  • Write me a thank you note (88 percent).

Teams are a sum of their parts. When those “parts” feel appreciated and valued, they are better able to make it through crisis after crisis and bounce back from tough days.

Where 2020 was the Year of the Nurse, let’s make 2021 the Year of the Team, so that no matter what the year may throw at nurses, they’ll still feel supported, nurtured and cared for.

RENEE THOMPSON, RN, DNP, CMSRN, is the CEO and founder of the Healthy Workforce Institute. As a speaker, author and consultant, her goal is to eradicate nurse bullying and incivility.

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