Published: 28 February 2016
Published: 28 February 2016
One of the most annoying things to nurses is to come on shift and find that the shift before has left work undone. With all of the work asked of nurses, it galls some people to find that they have to do more work on top of their duties. Obviously, this can lead to animosity between the shifts.
It can lead to nurses thinking that those on other shifts are lazy or just don’t understand the particular hurdles that the other shifts have to deal with. This can break down the sense of teamwork on the unit and can become a problem when the animosity gets to a high level.
What can a nursing unit do about shift to shift animosity? It isn’t an easy proposition to find a way to fix it. If nurses didn’t have so much work to begin with, most wouldn’t mind helping out a fellow nurse on an earlier shift. With the crushing amount of work that has to be done, it can feel like the added weight is the last straw. Some nurses harbour this animosity and will become enraged no matter how hard the previous nurse worked. It is important to understand the differences between the shifts to get a good idea why they are leaving work. Another possibility is to accept some shift to shift responsibility. Nursing is a 24 hour job, and no one can get everything done. Finally, management needs to find a way to have these shifts come together to work as a cohesive unit.
One problem with shift to shift animosity is that it’s difficult for those on the new shift to be aware of the challenges of the previous shift. For instance, the morning shift may resent having things passed off to them by the night shift due to the erroneous belief that nothing happens on night duty. Combatting this may be as simple as having nurses work different shifts to get an idea of the issues. Many nurses will rebel against this because most don’t like working night shift. It is intrusive into personal lives and can upset the nurse’s sleeping rhythms.
Another way to combat this is simply to communicate what the differences are. For instance, not many nurses know that night shift nurses are given clerical work to finish in addition to their nursing duties. Nurses on the afternoon shift need to be told of the long line of doctors and colleagues that come in to see the patients during the first part of the day. To some nurses, even this knowledge will not be helpful because they will say that their shift has just as many challenges. While this is true, no one is superhuman, and just as a morning shift nurse has to pass on work, sometimes the afternoon shift nurse has to pass on work, too.
Despite understanding what other shifts are like, nurses have to accept that some work will be left from the last shift. In some cases, a nurse who tries to not leave things for the next shift will stay long after their shift is finished, causing both stress and unneeded overtime. The stress is bad for the nurse. The overtime is often punished by management. This is all in an attempt to do something that is almost completely impossible: to finish everything in the allotted time. Every nurse has done it at some point to avoid leaving more work. Some do it to keep the following nurse from getting angry, but many nurses do it because they know how much that nurse has to do for her own duties.
In short, the need to leave work for following shifts has to be accepted by both the outgoing and incoming nurses. The problem with this understanding tends to arise when the oncoming nurse feels as if they are being used. Something that was legitimately left over is more likely to be accepted than something that should be done, no matter what. Laziness is often suspected by other shifts, and this can lead to the animosity. Management should try to keep an eye on who is leaving more work for the next shift than necessary. However, it may be easier to professionally confront the nurse about their performance, to find out why they are not completing their work. If that fails to solve the problem, then involving management, unfortunately, may be necessary.
Shift to shift animosity exists everywhere, even in non-nursing venues. In factories, one shift often feels that the other shifts get off too easily and that they have the hardest jobs. It may not be possible, therefore, to completely eradicate this animosity. Everyone thinks they have it the hardest, and they resent anyone who potentially has it easier. The problem with nursing is that every shift is difficult. No one is really resting on their laurels despite which shift they work. Yet the perception will still exist. This type of shift resentment may not be fixable. It is almost human nature to think someone else has it easier than you.
What can be fixed is the leaving of work for the next shift. All nurses need to have an understanding that this is not only possible but likely that they will have to clean up behind the nurse they followed. In turn, the nurse that follows them will have to clean up behind them as well. The nursing day is one large cycle and no one nurse’s “work” belongs to them. If tasks need to be completed, then the next nurse becomes responsible. The patient belongs to all three nurses – or two in a 12 hour shift – and helping a nurse who has been drowning their whole shift should be second nature. Only when it is abused should action be taken, and even then it is better to give a nurse the benefit of the doubt.
Lynda is a registered nurse with three years experience on a busy surgical floor in a city hospital. She graduated with an Associates degree in Nursing from Mercyhurst College Northeast in 2007 and lives in Erie, Pennsylvania in the United States. In her work, she took care of patients post operatively from open heart surgery, immediately post-operatively from gastric bypass, gastric banding surgery and post abdominal surgery. She also dealt with patient populations that experienced active chest pain, congestive heart failure, end stage renal disease, uncontrolled diabetes and a variety of other chronic, mental and surgical conditions. See Educator Profile