There are many reasons that bullying and unhealthy workplaces have become so common, and I’m sure that you, dear Reader, can rattle off a few without even thinking too hard.
The level of stress in the healthcare milieu seems to have increased with the years. Higher patient acuity, staffing issues, bullying, and other factors cause some nurses to leave workplaces for greener pastures -- others simply leave the profession altogether.
We hear stories of nurses whose 12-hour shifts are really 13 hours (meaning one hour without pay because it’s impossible to finish on time). We also hear about nurses who purposefully dehydrate themselves in order to avoid needing to use the restroom during a busy shift.
These and other dynamics make nursing a profession to be feared and avoided at a time in history when we need more trained nurses than ever. With a rapidly aging population coupled with an exponential increase in obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic and preventable illnesses, we need a trained nursing workforce that’s happy, healthy, engaged in their career, and ready to face the healthcare challenges of the 21st century.
Know Your Rights
Joe Strummer and his punk rock band The Clash once sang that you need to know your rights. Nurses, you indeed need to know your rights and assert them every step of the way.
Do you remember the five rights of medication administration? In case your forgot, they are the right patient, the right medication, the right time, the right dose, and the right route. Well, did you know that there are five rights of a healthcare work environment? (I just made them up, so you I don’t blame you for not having heard of them yet – there will be multiple-choice at the end of this blog post, so be sure to study.)
The five rights of a healthcare work environment as created by yours truly are:
Now that we’ve established your five rights, let’s break this five-pack down into its constituent parts, shall we?
Right practice means that you’re able to practice nursing in a way that works for you. Right practice translates as practicing to the fullest extent of your license in a manner that’s personally and professionally satisfying.
In right practice, there is no one trying to strip you of your power, rob you of your authority, undermine you, or otherwise thwart your mission as a nurse and healthcare provider.
Relationships mean a lot when you’re working in a challenging healthcare environment that calls for collaboration and teamwork.
You have a right to work relationships that are healthy, supportive, kind, compassionate, symbiotic, cooperative, and collaborative.
In right relationships, even when there is disagreement, respect holds sway. In right relationship, positive communication remains the behavioral touchstone.
Whether with physicians, maintenance staff, physical therapists, or radiologists, your relationships at work are imbued with respect and collegiality.
The third right pertains to your work environment. You have a right to a workplace free of bullying, violence, harassment, intimidation, discrimination, avoidance, authoritarian leadership, disrespect, and other aberrant behaviors that make you feel undervalued, distressed, or unhappy.
In terms of your physical work environment, you have a right to ergonomically conducive work spaces that prevent pain and injury, not cause them. You also have a right to the avoidance of high levels of noise pollution and exposure to chemical agents that can make you sick.
You have a right to sufficient break time, meals, and rest periods. We must also add that you have the right to have access to proper hydration and readily accessible toilet facilities.
Your work environment should be physically and psychologically healthy.
You have the right to be led by leaders who have your best interests at heart. Right leadership is leadership focused on employee engagement and success.
In right leadership, personal and professional growth are valued and encouraged, and leaders take responsibility for providing opportunities for growth.
Right leadership means that a leader never turns a blind eye towards negative behavior like bullying. An enlightened leader works to create an environment where those who break the rules are held accountable, and those who adhere to the rules are valued.
There is no doubt that you have a right to hold your leaders to a high standard of conduct and success.
Right livelihood means that you are doing what you love to do in an environment that meets your needs (and hopefully exceeds your expectations).
In right livelihood, your workplace is free of violence, bullying is non-existent, leadership is effective, and you feel personally aligned with the mission and the values of your workplace.
When you’re practicing nursing within a state of right livelihood, you feel like you’re in the right place at the right time with the right people. Your right livelihood as a nurse is a key to success and happiness, not to mention your professional satisfaction and overall well-being (physical, psychological, spiritual, and emotional).
You have a right to your own right livelihood, and your workplace should have the fulfillment of the right livelihood of its employees as its mission. Every true leader knows that happy, healthy, and satisfied healthcare workers will deliver better care, thus patients will be positively impacted, not to mention the organizational bottom line.
Bringing It All Back Home
The five rights of a healthy work environment are not a given in every workplace. In some healthcare facilities, few if any of these rights are recognized, let alone operationalized or fulfilled.
In most industrialized countries, many rights (like the right to free speech) are constitutionally guaranteed and upheld by the rule of law. And when those rights are trampled, the people can (theoretically) hold their democratically elected leaders accountable for any violation thereto.
Agitate For Change
Using my proposed five rights as your template and launching pad, assess if your workplace is failing to recognize any crucial employee rights that you deem unassailable. If they indeed are, you have the right (and some would say the responsibility) to speak truth to power and agitate for the recognition of those rights. You also have the right to exit stage left for greener pastures.
Healthcare workplaces should not see nurses and other staff members as so much disposable, replaceable cannon fodder. New nurses should not be thrown into the fire without even a moment in the frying pan. Being respected and valued should be part and parcel of your work experience; if it’s not, you have a choice to make.
Remember these five rights, share them with your colleagues and leaders, and use them as leverage in your pursuit of right livelihood and personal and professional happiness.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.
Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.
A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession. Keith has written for Nurse.com, Nurse.org, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AUSMed, American Sentinel University, Black Doctor, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog, NursingCE.com, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.
Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and his adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George.