A Focus on the Positive Fuels Resilience and Prevents Burnout

By Kelly Carter, MS, RN, NE-BC Jun 25, 2020

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As a nurse leader, I’m always looking for ways to build resilience in my staff.

As a nurse leader, I’m always looking for ways to build resilience in my staff. I’m writing this blog to share what I’ve found to be especially important now. Nurses and teams are often working under incredible stress during this pandemic. Stress and burnout have the potential to derail the great work that nurses do. Prolonged exposure to stressful work situations eventually leads to burnout. Signs of burnout include frustration, anger, hopelessness, insomnia or a negative attitude toward patients and team members.

Positive psychology research demonstrates that when we focus on the positive, we become happier, and this happiness leads to being grateful. People who are grateful are more optimistic. Optimists:

  • Set more goals
  • Reach their goals
  • Stay engaged in the face of difficulty, and rise above obstacles more easily
  • Cope better in high-stress situations
  • Are better able to maintain high levels of well-being during times of stress

Look for the Good

There are many ways that we can fuel our resilience and become more optimistic while working under incredible stress. Now more than ever, we should all have a focus on the positive elements of the work we are doing. First, scan your work environment and identify the positive things that are happening. I recommend incorporating gratitude (e.g. identifying three good things) into shift safety huddles. Ask staff to share one positive aspect about today’s work, or recognize one work- or- team-related event or outcome they are grateful for. Often, we think to ourselves instead of saying out loud, “I’m so glad this nurse is working today, because I know I can get through anything when I work with her.” Verbalizing positive statements will improve sense of camaraderie in the unit and can have a meaningful effect on the recipient. It will also elevate your mood!

Write It Down, Share It

Another method is to have everyone write down at least one gratitude or good thing that happened during their workday. These can be shared with the following shift during their safety huddle. Over time, gratitude and sharing examples of goodness will harness goodwill, and a sense of closeness, and build morale among team members. The goal is to focus on the good work we are doing instead of hearing a list of complaints or negativity from the off-going shift. I recommend that unit huddle leaders keep this activity on the agenda daily. Before long you will notice that there is an increased sense of optimism on your team, and there will be more of a “we can do this attitude” on your unit.

Benefits of Optimism

Now, you may doubt that this idea will work, but by doing these simple actions and focusing on the positive, my unit went from having poor RN engagement scores to having the highest engagement scores in our organization. And, as we all know, RN engagement is highly correlated with resilience, positive patient outcomes, better patient satisfaction and reduced hospital-acquired conditions. The focus on the positive side of our work each day will help us recognize and call out the meaning in our work, improve teamwork and work relationships, and help the team maintain their resilience and deal more effectively with challenges and stressors. For your well-being, please read this recent blog for resources and strategies to help you cultivate resilience and mitigate stress.

What will you do to help your team improve resilience and gratitude in your unit?