There’s a saying that you can lead others by being the change you want to see in the world, and this could not be more accurate for nurses and the nursing profession.
In nursing, stress and hard work are two of the common denominators of many nurses’ lives.
Long hours, difficult patients, and too little time for self-care are all reasons why nurses become disheartened, burned out, and resentful of both their patients and their colleagues. And when burnout and unhappiness rear their ugly heads, there soon follow complaining, bickering, gossip, bullying, and other ‘deadly sins’ of the nursing work environment.
For those nurses who want to rise above such negativity and try to change the behaviour of their grumpier colleagues and alter the unhealthy culture in which they find themselves, leading by example is one of the most powerful ways to do so.
Fight Negativity With Positivity
In situations where negative behaviour like bullying is perpetrated, a nurse who witnesses such actions and remains silent is guilty by complicity.
If bullying occurs, a nurse can lead by example, coming to the defence of the victim or attempting to influence the situation either through direct confrontation of the bully or tactics of distraction or de-escalation.
Vicious gossip can be demoralising and destructive and there are two things nurses can do in such situations:
- Refuse to take part in such gossip by not adding fuel to the fire, and
- Say something positive about the nurse who is being ridiculed and tell offending colleagues that such disrespect is hurtful and uncalled for.
While this can take courage, such actions can disarm gossipers, or at least silence them temporarily, putting them on notice that their behaviour is noted and not condoned.
Changing Unhealthy Workplace Environments
In a healthcare environment where nurses disregard their own wellness, a collective sense of nurse martyrdom can take hold.
Nurses love to put their noses to the grindstone and brag how many hours they’ve been on their feet without food or how many shifts in a row they’ve worked. This unhealthy boasting should be recognised as such.
In such cases, the nurses on a particular unit make a spoken or unspoken group decision that taking breaks is frowned upon, meals are for nurses who lack stamina, and those who need to use the toilet or take a break are somehow weaker than those who deny themselves such moments of relative leisure.
When these are the cultural norms of a nursing work environment, something is amiss, and the activist nurse interested in changing such a punishing calculus can make an impact based on concerted action and the force of their will or personality.
And while one person cannot independently change an entire culture of suboptimal wellness, that nurse can mount an effective campaign in support of nurse self-care and healthy personal boundaries at work.
If others come to see the sense of such an argument, only a critical mass of employees is necessary to sway the situation in the right direction.
Being a Nurse Change Agent
Nurses cannot wait for their leaders or administrators to fight back against bullying and incivility or implement healthy behavioural change in the workplace.
While forward-thinking nurse managers may champion such a task, the drive for change often comes from rank and file nurses who will no longer accept the status quo.
Thoughtful nurses who want to be the change they wish to see in the world must often step outside their comfort zones, embrace the role of nurse workplace activist, and choose to fight the good fight.
Change must come from those willing to bring it into being, and nurses can choose be the ones who orchestrate, manifest and create their own optimal workplace environments.