“Employees don’t leave companies; they leave managers,” is how the saying goes, but Gallup provided the numbers to back up the phrase. According to its State of the American Manager Report, “one in two employees have left a job to get away from a manager and improve their overall life at some point in their career.”
The research also revealed that about one in 10 people possesses the talent and skills to manage and, when in managerial roles can create a culture that engages, motivates and supports their employees’ overall development. This is crucial in management across industries, but especially in the healthcare sector.
Nurse managers have the essential role of overseeing the success of organizational missions and the quality of care provided by staff nurses. Their duties include, but are not limited to, managing teams of nurses, coordinating staff training and supervising nurses’ patient care. Therefore, these leaders can directly impact how nurses feel mentally, physically and emotionally — all of which contribute to burnout, turnover rates and overall patient satisfaction.
“Nurse managers set the tone for how effective and efficient the employees and staff will be,” said Seun Ross, director of nursing practice and work environment at the American Nurses Association (ANA). “Nurses represent the largest subgroup of healthcare professionals, and they provide the most care, which places them at a prime position to affect outcomes.”
Nurse managers who possess a skill set beyond the standard hard skills of leadership best excel in supporting their nursing staff. Accredited programs, like the online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Administrative Leadership program at Northeastern State University (NSU), offer courses that allow students to develop a comprehensive foundation and cultivate those skills in real time. The coursework in this degree program allows individuals to actively:
- Create collaborative partnerships with healthcare colleagues
- Apply expanded research knowledge, critique skills and evidence-based practice relevant to advanced nursing practice
- Demonstrate leadership in nursing practice to implement change and to improve the quality, safety and outcomes for individuals, populations and systems
- Value social, cultural, political, legal and ethical influences that impact nursing practice
- Demonstrate responsibility and accountability for professional nursing practice and lifelong learning
Advanced degree programs also arm professionals with a broad knowledge base that includes cultural competency and awareness of timely trends and issues that face the profession, like global pandemics.
The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the challenges nurse managers face. During the surge of cases in New York City, for example, nurse managers were tasked with designing COVID-19 care units, securing all of the necessary equipment, providing emotional support for nurses processing the trauma of the death rates and making sure staff drank enough water.
“You can imagine trying to manage a unit with this kind of clinical, physical and emotional turmoil,” said Eloise Cathcart, MSN, RN and director of the nursing administration program at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing. “Nurse managers were just thrown into a situation no one had ever seen before.”
Working in healthcare calls for innovative, transparent and empathetic leadership, among other skills. One practical tip for supporting nursing staff as a leader, pandemic or not, is simply showing up. Cathcart stressed the importance of nurse managers embracing their roles as leaders and visibly helping with patient care to show staff the definition of a collective effort. Other tips for supporting nurse staff include:
Amplifying nurses’ voices. Nurses should feel seen and heard, especially since they spend the most time with patients. Creating space for nurses to share their experiences not only benefits nurse managers from a learning standpoint but can also offer validation and reduce emotional stress.
Investing in your team. Burnout among nurses is unfortunately common within the profession and negatively affects mental health. One BCM Nursing study showed 30.7% of nurse respondents had symptoms of depression, and 35.3% had at least one symptom of burnout. Creating a nurturing and appreciative environment can improve how nurses feel about coming to work and offer motivation. Nurse managers can advocate for perks like flexible scheduling, professional development, continuing education with tuition reimbursement and opportunities to better manage work and life demands.
As an example, Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center, offers free concierge services to all employees as a gesture of appreciation. These services include dinner reservations, event planning, dry cleaning and more. The hospital also includes an employee health-club membership and tuition benefits.
Great nurse managers do more than manage organizational efforts. They also listen, affirm, empower and motivate their nursing staff. Nurses give so much of themselves to their profession — physically, mentally and emotionally. When the right support and resources are provided, they can truly thrive.