Support positive relationships and value each team member.
- A resilient workforce is the foundation for positive change within an organization.
- When healthcare organizations make resilience intentional, they can create a culture of well-being for their teams that positively impacts patients.
If you can answer yes to any of the following questions, this article is for you.
- Have you ever been misunderstood at work?
- Have you ever been frustrated with poor communication or teamwork?
- Have you ever changed your personal plans due to work?
- Have you had trouble sleeping because of work stress?
- Has stress become your norm?
- Have you fantasized about quitting your job or even switching careers?
- Have you lost your zest for nursing?
In 2014, many of our nurses at Duke Raleigh Hospital were answering these questions with an emphatic yes. We found they were experiencing stress, had low resilience, and some were burned out.
Like many healthcare organizations across the country, we’re committed to improving our safety culture, which depends on the resilience of nurses and other healthcare staff. We began by working with experts to help us better understand resilience and burnout and find tools and activities to help us strengthen resilience. We then developed interprofessional processes and programs to ensure ongoing efforts at building resilience across the organization. Our end goal was to prepare our staff for a change in our organizational culture to promote the safety of patients, families, and staff.
Resilience first, then change
The Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety (TeamSTEPPS®) steering committee, an interprofessional team led by the chief nursing officer (CNO) and leaders from patient safety and education, collaborated with resilience researcher Dr. J. Bryan Sexton, who pointed out that work settings with the greatest opportunity for improving their safety survey performance were too burned out to adopt change successfully. To address this issue, he helped us develop resilience activities and tools—such as Three Good Things—that team members could incorporate into their daily lives. (See Three Good Things.)
Sexton also worked with the teams to cultivate positive emotions, such as awe. Feeling amazed by the world around us becomes more difficult when we’re caught up in the rush of daily activities or burned out. He taught our team members, using a simple tool, to allow themselves to stop and appreciate moments of awe throughout the day—a beautiful sunrise or a special moment with a patient, friend, or loved one.
Sexton also has researched the benefits of expressing gratitude. We often think of expressing gratitude as a simple thank you, but Sexton taught us that writing down feelings of gratitude has lasting benefits. He encouraged team members to write gratitude letters regularly to people who had a positive impact on their day, in a particular situation, or in their overall lives. Once a week, we dedicate time in our nursing leadership meetings to write thank-you notes to our staff and mail them to their homes. After giving our team members the tools to build their personal resilience, we began our TeamSTEPPS implementation in a phased approach. (See Step it up.)
As our implementation journey progressed, we observed the positive impact the resilience work had on our team. Inspired by stories from individuals and teams about how the activities helped improve their wellbeing and team performance, we decided to make resilience a continual focus for our organization.
Building resilience is an ongoing process, and we’ve continued to develop ways to enhance positivity in the workplace. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist who’s completed extensive research in positive emotions, focuses on the 10 positive emotions that support happiness: love, gratitude, inspiration, pride, joy, serenity, interest, hope, awe, and amusement. We’ve incorporated these emotions in our efforts to improve well-being at work.
Initially, we partnered with departments to create a customized plan to improve resilience based on their team needs. We identified staff to attend a 2-day resilience workshop provided by the Duke Patient Safety Center. The workshop focused on the science of resilience and in-depth tool application.
After the workshop, attendees partnered with department leadership to develop plans to improve resilience. The education department initiated Wellness Wednesday, dedicating 20 minutes each week to participate in a wellness activity like yoga, stretching, mindful breathing, and walking. The radiology nursing team found that many of them were struggling with sleep issues. Team members completed education on healthy sleep habits, used their phones to set daily bedtime reminders, committed to not consuming caffeine after 3 PM, created a 15-minute awareness window by communicating a shift end so team members can help each get out of work on time, and used sleep-tracking logs. The team successfully improved their sleep at night, which allowed them to be their best possible selves at work. They reported feeling more alert and ready to face the challenges of the day and experienced improvements in their follow-up safety survey scores.
In an effort to make building resilience continuous and extend it across the organization, we developed an interprofessional team to brainstorm ideas for organization-wide resilience activities. We recruited team members from human resources, education, patient safety, service excellence, and communications to develop specific activities we would do simultaneously throughout the entire organization. For example, we created interactive bulletin boards in each unit with activities for building resilience and positivity. The bulletin boards are placed in the employee lounges with supplies attached for team members to add their input, offer advice to others, or simply share their personal experiences. We also encouraged team members to post pictures to tell their story.
One bulletin board focused on cultivating positive emotions throughout the year, with a theme and activity for each emotion. (See Show your pride.)
Another bulletin board asked team members to share their “Prescription for well-being.” Staff shared activities they enjoy doing outside of work, including “being grateful,” “snuggle time with my little ones,” “pedicures,” “eating cake,” and “spending time with family.” We encourage leaders to discuss the board themes with all of their team members during staff meetings and to give everyone an opportunity to share additional ideas.
To help enhance joy and serenity at work, we developed a bulletin board asking, “What fills your cup?” with a coffee-mug theme. We provided paper coffee beans and tea bags for team members to write what brings them joy. The corresponding activity was traveling around to the units with a cart of tea, coffee, and aromatherapy to pass out to team members during their shift.
Each time we change the bulletin board theme, we create a kit that includes all the necessary components of the board and a photo of a completed version for leaders to replicate on their unit. This is an important part of our sustainability plan; it encourages participation without requiring too much time away from other duties.
Make resilience intentional
Focusing on personal resilience and improving teamwork has been extremely rewarding for individual team members and the organization. Since launching focused resilience education in coordination with team training, we’ve seen significant improvement in resilience, teamwork, and safety climate in our organizational culture surveys. The feedback on each of the bulletin boards and activities has been positive, and the managers appreciate the kits we provide. We plan to repeat several of the popular activities at various points throughout the year. All of the activities are low cost and easy to replicate in any organization.
We’ve learned that a resilient workforce is the foundation for positive change within an organization. By focusing on personal well-being, we’ve seen our culture shift into one that supports positive relationships, values each team member, and accepts that none of us are superhuman. Knowing that teamwork is essential for safe, high-quality care, we strive to foster a positive environment coupled with providing staff with a common language through team training. By making resilience intentional, healthcare organizations can create a culture of well-being that positively impacts patients, their loved ones, and the team members who care for them.
Tammi P. Hicks is the administrative director at Duke University Health System in Raleigh, North Carolina. Melissa Sullivan is manager of patient safety at Duke Raleigh Hospital. J. Bryan Sexton is the director of the Duke Patient Safety Center at Duke University Health System and associate professor at Duke University School of Medicine. Kathryn C. Adair is the assistant director of research at the Duke Patient Safety Center at Duke University Health System.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. About TeamSTEPPS®. April 2017. ahrq.gov/teamstepps/about-teamstepps/index.html
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