Coping with the Demands of Nursing Leadership
When nurses move into management and leadership roles, they take on additional responsibilities such as balancing costs and striving to improve productivity while maintaining patient and staff satisfaction. They juggle these tasks in addition to the multitude of worries competing for attention regarding recruitment and retention, policies, ethics, and more. Stress management and coping skills are essential to a nurse leader, although often nurturing these skills is overlooked.
To meet the challenges of a nurse leadership role, it’s helpful to seek methods to cope with the daily stressors accompanying the role, and prevent this strain from decreasing job satisfaction for nurse leaders and their nursing staff.
There’s No Guidebook
The skills required for a leadership role can’t be outlined specifically, and it can take a few years for a new leader to become comfortable with tasks, then more time to continue to refine and master the role. Many nurses are promoted into a leadership or management role with no prior training and lack feedback on their performance. Clinical expertise doesn’t always transcend into management or leadership skills. Even with education in administration, increased stress can result when nurse leaders are challenged with constantly changing situations, and managing conflicting demands with:
- Organizational constraints of what needs to be done versus what can be done
- Role overload with overwhelming tasks and inadequate time
- Role conflict as the needs of the organization, employee, and patient, collide
It’s often impossible to thoroughly prepare for many situations a nurse leader may encounter, and no amount of planning can eliminate every mistake. With social media, almost any mistake can become public knowledge. Regardless of who made the mistake, often the nurse leader must manage and address the aftermath whether it’s with an individual employee, multiple employees, the organization, or the public. When the going gets tough, leaders often work through their stress because they may feel as if they don’t have an adequate outlet to express fatigue or overwhelming stress. Over time this can lead to feelings of loneliness.
It Can Be Lonely at the Top
Leaders want to be a positive role model and inspire and motivate their staff. Most leaders are aware of the potential negative impact of exposing their stress to their staff, but ignore the potential detrimental mental and physical effects to their own health by keeping a tight rein on underlying worries. Since they can’t always talk about their concerns, nurse leaders may lack someone to provide sufficient support and advice and end up feeling isolated or lonely in their role.
The best leaders are often working behind the scenes, trying to be proactive and prevent a crisis. They put in the work, but they don’t always get to enjoy the glory or seek the moral support they need. This can whittle away at their passion for their position and have it replaced with complacency unless methods are developed to cope with the demands of their nursing leadership role.
Developing Coping Strategies
Stress often accompanies a leadership role, but it doesn’t have to be accepted as part of the job description. Not addressing this stress can, in turn, affect nurse retention and indirectly impact patient outcomes. This can make it appear to be an undesirable position for nurses to aspire toward. Developing positive coping strategies, and support systems for management and leadership positions can result in increased job satisfaction and better mental health. The benefits of creating and sustaining a healthier work environment can increase staff satisfaction, recruitment, and retention.
Perceptions of stress and methods of coping can vary for individuals. Making changes to reduce stressors requires relinquishing some control. This can lead to gaining trust in others, placing trust in them, admitting to mistakes and accepting advice from others. Other methods to reduce the stressors accompanying leadership include:
- Mentor managers to make opportunities and delegate tasks to decrease feelings of overwhelming and increase feelings of gratification
- Network and connect with other leaders for social support and validation of similar challenges
- Communicate what needs to be done and trust that others have the capabilities to complete the task to convey respect and confidence while reducing overall workload
- Consider scheduling methods to increase staff independence and flexible or partial remote scheduling methods for leaders to increase their ability to focus by decreasing distractions
- Practice reducing stress and strive to prevent burnout by exercising, and disconnecting during time off and vacation
- Continue to learn with education and seminars to seek new solutions for old problems
- Focus on end results to help prevent drowning in the everyday
- Make emotional boundaries and understand that staff conflict isn’t necessarily a personal attack
- Lighten the workload by knowing when to say no
- Model resilient behavior and maintain negative emotions to nurture a positive work environment
Reap the Rewards
Nurse leadership isn’t always an easy job, but it can be a rewarding one if efforts are made to build positive coping methods and balance tasks. Conveying trust in nursing staff to help handle delegated tasks can allow opportunities for nurses to develop new skills and grow into new roles while reducing the stress and workload that can accompany a leadership role.