Nurses have a deserved reputation of being difficult to work with: we eat our young, and we are a bunch of back-stabbing, squabbling, whining folks. Is it because we are still a female-dominated profession? Because of the fierce competition for jobs themselves, not to mention preferred schedules and shifts? Because of a culture of blaming and looking out for number one?
The answer is probably a combination of those things, plus personal ambition, personal shortcomings, and individual personalities. One nurse cannot change an entire culture, but these individual traits are entirely subject to being addressed and changed.
To that end, it is truly difficult to change your attitude when you are tired, overworked, and surrounded by negative people who are also tired and overworked. Still, here are some ideas to counteract a negative workplace, starting with yourself:
- Fake it till you make it. When all else fails, this isn’t a horrible idea. Just as smiling when you’re sad will, studies say, eventually make you feel happier, acting relaxed and satisfied with your job does make the situation feel more relaxed. Bonus: coworkers pick up on one another’s nonverbal signals, so just as a bad attitude travels from person to person, so does a relaxed one.
- Bring food. It may be a little grade school–ish, but few things perk up nurses more than gratuitously brought junk food. Don’t bring a vegetable tray. Bring donuts or cookies, or have pizza delivered. Being around happy people for an entire shift is worth $20 sometimes.
- Do stuff you don’t have to do. There are always things not on your assigned task list that you can do. Think how happy you are when you drag yourself in to go through rooms and look for expired gauze and find that someone already did it. Look for the expired gauze when you don’t have to.
- Facilitate breaks. It is amazing how an entire shift will perk up when nurses team up to give each other breaks. Adopt an “I’ll cover you and then you cover me” plan and watch satisfaction go up.
- Bite your tongue. When you’re tired and mad and everyone else is whining and complaining, it feels temporarily good to join in and let out your own frustrations. The emphasis is on temporarily. In the long term, a group of angry people letting out negative energy just makes everyone feel more negative.
- Put a moratorium on work talk when you are not at work. Your family doesn’t want to hear it. Your friends don’t want to hear it. Also, the way I look at it, if I’m not at work, I’m not getting paid, so I shouldn’t be doing anything related to work. Carrying the negativity home just ruins your time off as well. Resist the urge.
Conversely, as with most things, there is a gray area, a fine line, an on the other hand. Keeping things bottled up and becoming a fake Polyanna is not a long-term solution. EAPs (employee assistance programs), available at many jobs, can provide names of therapists who can be sounding boards. I make a point of befriending the chaplains anywhere I work. I just find that they are generally open, nonjudgmental people who are fantastic listeners and don’t take anything personally. Finally, an idea I see used too seldom is the “timed complaining session.” The unit where I was a CNA had monthly no-holds-barred meetings with the department director. Anyone could go, we took turns talking, and there was no retribution. The director met with people later if necessary. It cut down the muttering and whining nearly to zero because we knew we could go to the meeting and have our complaints heard. I thought it was a pretty good idea, but I’ve never seen it used elsewhere. Maybe it should be.