Healthcare workplace

Healthcare workplace

GIVEN the stressful healthcare workplace, it’s no wonder nurses and other healthcare professionals sometimes fall short of communi- cating in respectful, considerate ways. Nonetheless, safe patient care hinges on our ability to cope with stress effectively, manage our emo- tions, and communicate respectful- ly. Interactions among employees can affect their ability to do their jobs, their loyalty to the organiza- tion, and most important, the deliv- ery of safe, high-quality patient care.

The American Nurses Associa- tion (ANA) Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements clearly articulates the nurse’s obli- gation to foster safe, ethical, civil workplaces. It requires nurses “to create an ethical environment and culture of civility and kindness, treating colleagues, coworkers, em- ployees, students, and others with Healthcare workplace

dignity and respect” and states that “any form of bullying, harassment, intimidation, manipulation, threats, or violence will not be tolerated.” However, while nurses need to learn and practice skills to address

uncivil encounters, or- ganization leaders and managers must create an environment where nurses feel free and empowered to speak up, especially regard- ing patient safety issues.

All of us must strive to create and sustain civil, healthy work en- vironments where we

communicate clearly and effectively and manage conflict in a respectful, responsible way. The alternative— incivility—can have serious and lasting repercussions. An organiza- tion’s culture is linked closely with employee recruitment, retention, and job satisfaction. Engaging in clear, courteous communication fos- ters a civil work environment, im- proves teamwork, and ultimately enhances patient care.

In many cases, addressing inci- vility by speaking up when it hap- pens can be the most effective way to stop it. Of course, mean- ingful dialogue and effective com- munication require practice. Like bowel sound auscultation and na- sogastric tube insertion, communi- cation skills can’t be mastered overnight. Gaining competence in civil communication takes time, training, experience, practice, and feedback. Healthcare workplace

LEARNING OBJECTIVES 1. Identify components of a healthy

workplace. 2. Discuss how to prepare for a chal-

lenging conversation. 3. Describe models for conducting a

challenging conversation.

The planners of this CNE activity have disclosed no relevant financial relationships with any commercial companies pertaining to this activity. See the last page of the article to learn how to earn CNE credit. The author has disclosed that she receives royalties and consulting fees pertaining to this topic. The article was peer reviewed and determined to be free of bias. Healthcare workplace

Expiration: 11/1/18

CNE 1.0 contact hours

Conversations to inspire and promote a

more civil workplace Let’s end the silence that surrounds incivility.

By Cynthia M. Clark, PhD, RN, ANEF, FAAN November 2015 American Nurse Today 19

What makes for a healthy workplace? The American Association of Criti- cal-Care Nurses has identified six standards for establishing and sus- taining healthy work environ- ments—skilled communication, true collaboration, effective decision- making, appropriate staffing, mean- ingful recognition, and authentic leadership.

In my own research, I’ve found that healthy work environments al- so require: • a shared organizational vision,

values, and team norms • creation and sustenance of a

high level of individual, team, and organizational civility

• emphasis on leadership, both formal and informal

• civility conversations at all orga- nizational levels. I have developed a workplace

inventory that individuals and groups within organizations can use as an evidence-based tool to raise awareness, assess the perceived health of an organization, and de- termine strengths and areas for im- provement. The inventory may be completed either individually or by all team members, who can then compare notes to determine areas for improvement and celebrate and reinforce areas of strength. (See Clark Healthy Workplace Inventory.) Healthcare workplace

How to engage in challenging conversations One could argue that to attain a high score on nearly every invento- ry item, healthy communication must exist in the organization. So leaders need to encourage open discussion and ongoing dialogue about the elements of a healthy workplace. Sharing similarities as well as differences and spending time in conversation to identify strategies to enhance the workplace environment can prove valuable.

But in many cases, having such conversations is easier said than done. For some people, engaging

directly in difficult conversations causes stress. Many nurses report they lack the essential skills for hav- ing candid conversations where emotions run high and conflict- negotiation skills are limited. Many refrain from speaking with uncivil individuals even when a candid conversation clearly is needed, be- cause they don’t know how to or because it feels emotionally unsafe. Some nurses lack the experience and preparation to directly address incivility from someone in a higher position because of the clear power differential or a belief that it won’t change anything. The guidelines be- low can help you prepare for and engage in challenging conversations. Healthcare workplace

Reflecting, probing, and committing Reflecting on the workplace culture and our relationships and interac- tions with others is an important step toward improving individual, team, and organizational success. When faced with the prospect of having a challenging conversation, we need to ask ourselves key ques- tions, such as: • What will happen if I engage in

this conversation, and what will happen if I don’t?

• What will happen to the patient if I stay silent? In the 2005 report “Silence Kills:

The Seven Crucial Conversations for Healthcare,” the authors identi- fied failing to speak up in disre- spectful situations as a serious com- munication breakdown among healthcare professionals, and they asserted that such a failure can have serious patient-care conse- quences. In a subsequent report, “The Silent Treatment: Why Safety Tools and Checklists Aren’t Enough to Save Lives,” the authors suggest- ed a multifaceted organizational ap- proach to creating a culture where people speak up effectively when they have concerns. This approach includes several recommendations and sources of influence, including

improving each person’s ability to be sure all healthcare team mem- bers have the skills to be “200% ac- countable for safe practices.” Ways to acquire safe practice skills in- clude education and training, script development, role-playing, and practicing effective communication skills for high-stakes situations.

Creating a safe zone If you’ve decided to engage in a challenging conversation with a coworker who has been uncivil, choose the time and place careful- ly. Planning wisely can help you create a safe zone. For example, avoid having this conversation in the presence of patients, family, and other observers. Choose a set- ting where both parties will have as much emotional and physical safety as possible.

Both should agree on a mutual- ly beneficial time and place to meet. Ideally, the place should be quiet, private, away from others (especially patients), and con- ducive to conversation and prob- lem-solving. Select a time when both parties will be free of inter- ruptions, off shift, and well-rested. If a real or perceived power differ- ential exists between you and the other person, try to have a third party present.

You may need to initiate the conversation by asking the other person for a meeting. Suppose you and your colleague Sam dis- agree over the best way to per- form a patient care procedure. You might say something like, “Sam, I realize we have different approaches to patient care. Since we both agree patient safety is our top concern, I’m confident that if we sit down and discuss possible solutions, we can work this out. When would you like to get to- gether to discuss this?” Healthcare workplace


Before the meeting, think about how you might have contributed to the situation or conflict; this can help you understand the other per-

20 American Nurse Today Volume 10, Number 11

You can use the inventory below to help determine the health of your workplace. To complete it, carefully read the 20 statements below. Using a scale of 1 to 5, check the response that most accurately represents your perception of your workplace. Check 5 if the statement is completely true, 4 if it’s somewhat true, 3 if it’s neutral, 2 if it’s somewhat untrue, and 1 if it’s completely untrue. Then total the number values of your responses to determine the overall civility score. Scores range from 20 to 100. A score of 90

to 100 indicates a very healthy workplace; 80 to 89, moderately healthy; 70 to 79, mildly healthy; 60 to 69, barely healthy; 50 to 59, unhealthy; and less than 50, very unhealthy.

Completely Somewhat Neutral Somewhat Completely Statement true (5) true (4) (3) untrue (2) untrue (1)

Members of the organization “live” by a shared vision □ □ □ □ □ and mission based on trust, respect, and collegiality.

There is a clear and discernible level of trust □ □ □ □ □ between and among formal leadership and other members of the workplace.

Communication at all levels of the organization □ □ □ □ □ is transparent, direct, and respectful.

Employees are viewed as assets and valued □ □ □ □ □ partners within the organization.

Individual and collective achievements are celebrated □ □ □ □ □ and publicized in an equitable manner.

There is a high level of employee satisfaction, □ □ □ □ □ engagement, and morale.

The organizational culture is assessed on an ongoing □ □ □ □ □ basis, and measures are taken to improve it based on results of that assessment. Healthcare workplace

Members of the organization are actively engaged in □ □ □ □ □ shared governance, joint decision-making, and policy development, review, and revision.

Teamwork and collaboration are promoted and evident. □ □ □ □ □ There is a comprehensive mentoring program for □ □ □ □ □ all employees.

There is an emphasis on employee wellness and self-care. □ □ □ □ □ There are sufficient resources for professional growth □ □ □ □ □ and development.

Employees are treated in a fair and respectful manner. □ □ □ □ □ The workload is reasonable, manageable, and fairly □ □ □ □ □ distributed.

Members of the organization use effective conflict- □ □ □ □ □ resolution skills and address disagreements in a respectful and responsible manner.

The organization encourages free expression of diverse □ □ □ □ □ and/or opposing ideas and perspectives.

The organization provides competitive salaries, benefits, □ □ □ □ □ compensations, and other rewards.

There are sufficient opportunities for promotion and □ □ □ □ □ career advancement.

The organization attracts and retains the □ □ □ □ □ “best and the brightest.” Healthcare workplace

The majority of employees would recommend the □ □ □ □ □ organization as a good or great place to work to their family and friends.

© 2014 Cynthia M. Clark

Clark Healthy Workplace Inventory November 2015 American Nurse Today 21

son’s perspective. The clearer you are about your possible role in the situation, the better equipped you’ll be to act in a positive way. Re- hearsing what you intend to say al- so can help.

Preparing for the conversation Critical conversations can be stress- ful. While taking a direct approach to resolving a conflict usually is the best strategy, it takes fortitude, know-how—and practice, practice, practice. Prepare as much as possi- ble. Before the meeting, make sure you’re adequately hydrated and perform deep-breathing exercises or yoga stretches. Healthcare workplace

On the scene When the meeting starts, the two of you should set ground rules, such as: • speaking one at a time • using a calm, respectful tone • avoiding personal attacks • sticking to objective information.

Each person should take turns describing his or her perspective in objective language, speaking di- rectly and respectfully. Listen ac- tively and show genuine interest in the other person. To listen actively, focus on his or her message in- stead of thinking about how you’ll respond. If you have difficulty lis- tening and concentrating, silently repeat the other person’s words to yourself to help you stay focused.

Stay centered, poised, and fo- cused on patient safety. Avoid be- ing defensive. You may not agree with the other person’s message, but seek to understand it. Don’t in- terrupt or act as though you can’t wait to respond so you can state your own position or impression.

Be aware of your nonverbal messages. Maintain eye contact and an open posture. Avoid arm cross- ing, turning away, and eye rolling. Healthcare workplace

The overall goal is to find an interest-based solution to the situa- tion. The intention to seek com- mon ground and pursue a com –

promise is more likely to yield a win-win solution and ultimately im- prove your working relationship. Once you and the other person reach a resolution, make a plan for a follow-up meeting to evaluate your progress on efforts at resolv- ing the issue.

Framework for engaging in challenging conversations Cognitive rehearsal is an evidence- based framework you can use to address incivility during a challeng- ing conversation. This three-step process includes: • didactic and interactive learning

and instruction • rehearsing specific phrases to

use during uncivil encounters • practice sessions to reinforce in-

struction and rehearsal. Using cognitive rehearsal can

lead to improved communication, a more conflict-capable workforce, greater nurse satisfaction, and im- proved patient care Healthcare workplace

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