10 cost-effective and creative tips to boost staff morale

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Healthcare facilities nationwide are trimming staff, freezing pay, and cutting incentive programs to stay financially afloat in the current economic climate. Unfortunately doing so is likely to sink staff morale, which can drag the facility’s quality of care down with it.

“Happy employees translate into happy customers. And in healthcare that means happy patients,” says Bonnie Clair, MSN, RN, retention project manager at CoxHealth in Springfield, MO. “Happy patients are return customers, make quality referrals, and usually positively affect the bottom line.”

Nurse managers today don’t have a surplus of funds in their budgets to remove the gray clouds lingering on their units, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. Here are 10 ways to pump up your staff at little or no cost:

  1. Create a bulletin board entitled “STARS” or “HEROS” in a visible place on your unit, recommends Clair. Make paper stars readily available for staff to write on to describe peers’ positive acts. Then tack them on the board for all to see.
  2. Swap places with staff. Each month, send a different nurse to department head meetings instead of yourself, says Clair. “Have them report back to the unit [any information they learned] during your unit staff meeting,” she says. “Cover their assignment while they’re gone.”
  3. Charlene Kirby, RN, urgent care nurse manager at Vail (CO) Valley Medical Center suggests managers be mindful of the power of pitching in. “I truly believe that as a nurse manager I need to be a working nurse manager,” says Kirby. “It helps when I pitch in on the floor when staff is low because staff see that I am willing to work just as hard as they are.”
  4. Encourage staff electronically. Clair suggests nurse managers send an e-mail to staff complimenting them on a particularly excellent example of teamwork. While you’re at it, CC your facility’s CEO, vice president, and chief nursing officer.
  5. Perform personalized rounds. “If we are not busy with patients, I do rounds to talk to staff about the issues that are affecting the hospital and the rest of the world,” says Kirby. During these rounds she makes it a point to ask staff how their day is going or how their weekend was.
  6. Check with your corporate integrity department about which vendors, if any, are allowed into your organization, says Clair. “I’ve had good outcomes from vendors bringing in a free meal and doing a free 30 minute inservice on topics of interest to staff that are pertinent to our patient population and related to their product,” Clair says. Examples included Merci Retriever for stroke intervention and home monitoring equipment available to patients through her facility’s home health agency.
  7. If your budget allows for it, get staff some slices. “If we are really busy and staff are not getting their breaks, I’ll send out for pizza,” says Kirby. “It makes staff realize you are willing to take care of them.”
  8. If your budget doesn’t allow for pizza, organize a potluck lunch or dinner that all staff members can contribute to. “Anything that will engage staff is a good idea,” Clair says.
  9. Create transparency with communication. “If staff know what is going on in the organization they will be willing to help out,” says Kirby. “I share with staff where the organization is financially and we talk about how the economy is affecting other people so staff realize we are all in this together.”
  10. Make yourself available. “I know some [nurse managers] put an agenda on their door and leave a space for people to come talk to them, but that’s not always convenient for nurses who are busy with patients.” Keep your office door open. “You need to be available for your staff to help them get the tools they need to be successful,” says Kirby.

“The most important thing is for staff to feel appreciated for the work they do, and that doesn’t change with the economic climate,” says Clair. “Staff need to know the job they’re doing is positively affecting the mission of the organization.”

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