Building a Sense of Community on Nursing Units

By Sherman, Rose O. | American Nurse Today, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Building a Sense of Community on Nursing Units


Sherman, Rose O., American Nurse Today


JEFF RAWSON, a new nurse graduate, works on a behavioral health unit. His manager believes his transition is going well--until Jeff asks to transfer to another unit. When she talks with him about it, he says he doesn't feel a sense of belonging on the unit and has had difficulty establishing close relationships with coworkers.

Jeff's feeling of being disconnected from colleagues should concern his manager and other unit staff. Feeling a sense of community in the workplace and establishing close relationships with coworkers are tied closely with job satisfaction, especially among new nurse graduates. They're also important in establishing a healthy work environment.

In today's workplace, developing trusting relationships also is a significant emotional compensation. That was one of the 12 key discoveries from a multiyear research effort by The Gallup Organization. Their staff satisfaction survey, one of the most widely used in the healthcare field, asks, "Do you have a best friend at work?" Having such a friend links directly to staff retention and loyalty to the organization. Gallup found the best managers assert that the quality and depth of employees' relationships with one another is critical to employee loyalty.

Why a sense of community matters

A sense of community is crucial because staff may spend as much time with one another at work as they do with family members. Also, for some, work may be their only source of community, so it matters even more. During tough times like these, leaders should emphasize building community, camaraderie, and a sense of teamwork. When nurses feel a strong engagement, they're more likely to believe their coworkers will help them during stressful and challenging times.

We also know from nursing research that nurses have an innate need to feel connected and valued as members of a community. This sense of community must extend beyond the nursing staff to interdisciplinary team members and support staff who spend time on the unit. To deliver patient-centered care and improve patient satisfaction, every staff member must feel a unified commitment. That starts with a sense of belonging and ownership.

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Building blocks of community

The actions below can help you create an environment that promotes a sense of community on your nursing unit.

Align staff around a sense of purpose and values

The sense of community grows when all staff members have common values and share the same vision about the purpose of work. We sometimes assume this shared vision exists--but that may be an illusion. Leaders should initiate a discussion with staff and elicit their ideas about purpose and values so they can build a consensus. To create an environment of quality, safety, and patient-centeredness, staff need to feel strongly connected to the mission and to their overall contribution to patient care.

The Baptist Health Leadership group suggests three key questions to ask employees to start building a shared sense of purpose:

* What is our mission?

* What are we striving to become (our vision)?

* What guides our everyday behavior (our values)?

Be inclusive

To build a strong community, everyone must feel like a valued member, including interdisciplinary team members and housekeeping and engineering staffs. Inclusivity begins with unit leaders acknowledging the presence and knowing the names of staff members who work on the unit. In Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won't Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care, the author questions how an organization can hope to build a culture of communication if colleagues work in complete anonymity. When people come to know each other by name, he observes, they're more likely to act with civility. Anonymity, on the other hand, fosters incivility.

Value individual differences

Part of the joy of being human is recognizing we're all different and have unique gifts. …

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