Improving Nursing Staff Workplace Satisfaction

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nurses smiling

Ask any nurse about workplace satisfaction and the response will likely be the same: Nursing is a demanding profession but is also very fulfilling. A nurse staff satisfaction survey by Medscape showed some of the most rewarding parts of a nursing career include making a difference in people’s lives and positive relationships with patients.

At the same time, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) said dissatisfaction in the workplace is linked to lower-quality patient care, productivity and staff engagement, among other things. Nurse leaders have an opportunity to make the job even more rewarding by increasing workplace satisfaction and reducing staff stress.

“Since joy in work is a consequence of systems, quality improvement methods and tools have a role in its pursuit. That is to say: organizations and leaders that want to improve joy can do so using the same methods of aim setting, tests of change and measurement that they use in the more familiar terrain of clinical and operational process improvement,” Dr. Donald M. Berwick, IHI president emeritus and senior fellow, said in the Framework for Improving Joy in Work whitepaper.

Standing at the forefront of the efforts to improving workplace satisfaction are registered nurses (RNs) who have earned Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degrees. DNP-educated RNs are among the group of healthcare leaders who have the education and skills to improve workplace satisfaction. They understand what makes an effective nurse manager and how managers can implement positive changes.

Steps for Leaders to Increasing Workplace Satisfaction

The IHI said sound leadership is essential to creating more workplace joy. The organization has developed four steps for leaders to follow to restore, foster and encourage joy:

Step 1: Ask staff members, “What matters to you?”

Instead of communicating information, leaders should commit to listening and learning from staff nurses to understand the following:

  • What matters in your daily work?
  • What makes a day good?
  • What does a good day look like?
  • What gets in the way of a good day?

The IHI white paper authors said nurse leaders should use their innate skills to help nurses.

“Ask the question, listen to the first response, and then allow for deeper reflection about initial comments. Be comfortable with silence; practice curiosity and inquiry to listen — not just to hear, but also to understand,” white paper authors said.

Step 2: Identify impediments to workplace satisfaction

While listening to nurses about what matters, healthcare leaders will also hear about the daily hindrances to satisfaction. Just like answers to the “What matters to you?” question will differ among individuals and departments, so will the impediments.

The white paper authors said everyone could benefit from the “what matters” conversation, even team members who complain but don’t work to find solutions. “What matters” leads to positive engagements, the authors found.

“Emphasizing a focus on what staff can do together to address the impediments using improvement-science methods and tools was vital for these teams. This led to previously negative members joining in as they developed hope that irritants in daily life would be addressed,” white paper authors wrote.

Step 3: Commit to making increased satisfaction a shared responsibility at all levels of the organization

Ultimately, workplace joy is the leaders’ responsibility. That means all leaders must dedicate time, attention, skills development and resources to improving workplace satisfaction.

“Improving joy in work is directly linked to the skills of leaders at all levels. Organizations cannot just delegate responsibility for joy in work to the Human Resources department; it is everyone’s job,” white paper authors said.

Step 4: Use scientific methods to test approaches to improved satisfaction

Using improvement science – a problem-solving approach that focuses on small measurable changes that address specific issues – leaders can determine if the changes are having the desired effect.

“The aim is to make the change process rewarding and effective. Using principles of improvement science, organizations can determine if the changes they test are leading to improvement; if they are effective in different programs, departments and clinics; and if they are sustainable,” paper authors wrote.

How DNP-Educated Nurses Improve Workplace Satisfaction

Senior leaders, including DNP-educated RNs, are responsible for developing a workplace culture that encourages and fosters trust and joy on the job, the white paper said. In their position, they must ensure physical and psychological safety and set the vision for the changes that need to occur.

“Senior leaders are responsible for articulating the organization’s purpose, providing a clear line of sight from the work of each person to the mission of the organization, and ensuring meaning and purpose in work. They also ensure fair, equitable systems that embody the fundamental human needs that drive joy in work,” white paper authors stated.

In addition, American Nurse Today, the American Nurses Association (ANA) official publication, said several strategies for happiness can increase workplace satisfaction:

Encourage mindfulness

Instead of thinking about the next patient, take a moment to slow down and focus on the task at hand. By using meditation, nurses can focus their minds and increase happiness.

Consider Physical Health

Encourage nurses to eat right and exercise regularly to promote positive moods and increased long-term happiness.

Foster Spirituality

Studies show that people who have religious or spiritual beliefs are happier than those who do not. Satisfaction increases acts of empathy and compassion.

Recommend Social Connections

Allowing employees to maintain a stable work-life balance provides an added level of satisfaction in the workplace.

In addition, The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, a Wisconsin-based non-profit, suggested healthcare leaders build a workplace culture that encourages free speech and teamwork. In its whitepaper, “A Gold Bond to Restore Joy to Nursing: A Collaborative Exchange of Ideas to Address Burnout,” the foundation said nurse workplace dissatisfaction should be reframed as a patient safety issue because it can lead to patient and employee injuries.

“Interpersonal relationships and a supportive team can be the biggest sources of joy in a workplace. Success is easily measured: Those departments that are succeeding have a waiting list of people who want to work there, and their patients have better outcomes and report higher satisfaction with their health care experience,” the authors of the whitepaper stated.

For nurses who earn a DNP, including through an online DNP program, learning about leadership skills to improve workplace satisfaction is essential to the future of healthcare. At Duquesne University, RNs seeking a DNP learn vital skills for leadership and staff satisfaction. DNP candidates must complete a leadership project that focuses on the challenges and solutions in healthcare today.

About Duquesne University’s Online DNP Program

Duquesne University’s online DNP program prepares RNs for leadership roles in hospitals, medical centers and other healthcare facilities. With a DNP degree, RNs can lead teams to make positive changes in healthcare and increase workplace satisfaction.

Duquesne University’s online DNP program provides one-on-one faculty mentorships and a 100 percent online curriculum. The program has been repeatedly recognized as a leader in nursing education, most recently as a “Best Online Graduate Nursing Program” by U.S. News & World Report.

For more information, contact Duquesne University now.




Medscape Nurse Career Satisfaction Report 2019: Medscape

Framework for Improving Joy in Work: IHI (free registration required)

The meaning of happiness: American Nurse Today

A Gold Bond to Restore Joy to Nursing: A Collaborative Exchange of Ideas to Address Burnout: The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread