Bette McNee

According to a 2017 study by RNnetwork, 70% of nurses reported feeling burnt out, and half have considered leaving the industry. Nursing is a demanding occupation – a career as a nursing professional is often associated with long hours and high stress. Especially in long-term care facilities, where patients receive both physical and cognitive assistance around the clock, the emotionally taxing atmosphere can increase the likelihood of low employee morale.  

Low nurse morale not only has a negative impact on the overall culture of a care facility or hospital, but it can also have severe financial implications for an institution. First, nurse dissatisfaction is directly related to a high turnover rate. The Center for American Progress estimates that replacing a single employee costs approximately 20% of their annual salary, which doesn’t account for the loss of knowledge and expertise a facility will also inevitably have to bear.

And aside from the costs related to recruiting and training a replacement, having a dissatisfied – and thus disengaged – workforce can also affect safety within the facility. According to the American Psychological Association, 60% to 80% of workplace accidents are attributed to poor employee morale, which can also lead to false or exaggerated workers’ compensation claims. So, considering the potentially costly and dangerous impacts of low morale, skilled nursing facilities must ensure that maintaining a happy and healthy work environment is a top priority.

To assure that employee morale remains high in effort to reduce the risk of errors and increase patient safety, management must first fight nurse burnout. It is no secret that caregivers work long and strenuous hours. A 2014 study found that 31% of nurses reported getting enough sleep only two or three nights per week. Implementing facility-wide policies to help ensure workers are well-rested can significantly increase nurse satisfaction. For example, management can limit weekly overtime hours or try to avoid scheduling employees for 12-hour shifts – especially overnight – by instead breaking up the longer shifts with two shorter six-hour blocks.

Facility managers should also focus on the wellbeing of their nurses. Due to the nature of the job, many caregivers become so caught up in the health of their patients that their own wellbeing can easily become a secondary concern. Managers should schedule personal check-ins with nurses to ensure that their physical and emotional health is not taking a back seat. This also provides an opportunity for nurses to voice concerns so that they can be addressed before escalating into larger issues.

According to a study by PwC, 60% of workers reported that they would like to receive feedback on a daily or weekly basis. Conducting regular reviews affords managers the chance to discuss nurses’ overall job performance, answer questions they may have about their role or responsibilities and listen to a nurse’s professional goals. Proving to nurses that their manager truly cares about their individual growth and ultimate success can contribute to increased overall satisfaction in his or her role.

Finally, investing in teambuilding activities can go a long way in boosting employee morale. In many skilled nursing facilities, employees are extremely busy and can work together on a daily basis without having the time to get to know one another. But according to the 2017 State of the American Workforce, close working relationships can boost employee satisfaction by 50%. Communication or conflict resolution workshops can be a great way to improve inter-facility relationships. Beyond arranging teambuilding activities, simply hosting a team lunch or post-work get-together can be a great way to build trust and promote bonding, while simultaneously preventing nurses from feeling alone or isolated in the workplace.

It is clear that in order to be successful, healthcare facilities must continue to focus on keeping morale high. Human resource departments should work directly with nurse leads and even risk management consultants to identify issues as they arise and remedy potentially negative situations by implementing the correct processes for positive change. In the end, taking the time to develop and enact morale-boosting strategies will create a more productive, healthier and safer environment – for both nurses and their patients.

Bette McNee, RN, NHA, is a clinical risk management consultant at The Graham Company.