How Nurses Can Detect an "Unhealthy" Work Environment


SAN FRANCISCO (ASRN.ORG) -- When you’re looking for a new nursing position, the quality of the work environment will play a big role in determining whether you’ll be happy or miserable on the job. Fortunately, you can get an indication of that intangible but important element while you’re interviewing -- if you know what to ask and what to look for.

Before Your Interview: Do Your Research

Check if the hospital has achieved Magnet Status from the ANA. That designation should indicate a healthy environment. While it doesn’t guarantee harmony among employees, Magnet status is awarded to hospitals where nursing delivers excellent patient outcomes, nurses report a high level of job satisfaction, the nurse turnover rate is low and appropriate grievance procedures are in place. If an institution does not have Magnet status, ask if it is working to achieve it.

Also, consider the hospital’s reputation and study its mission to see if it meshes with your values.

During the Interview: Ask Specific Questions

Your interviewer -- likely your future manager -- will probably ask you how you handle certain situations. Answer the question, and then turn it around by asking, “If interpersonal conflicts occur on your unit, how do you handle the situation? How do you support your staff?” A lack of open dialogue during the interview is a warning sign of an unhealthy environment.

Other questions to ask include: “What channels are available to me if I have a problem I can’t resolve on my own?” and “What if I have an issue with a staff member or physician?”

In addition, find out how assignments are made. Are responsibilities distributed fairly, or does the staff give less-experienced nurses less-desirable assignments instead of considering their growth needs?

Ask the interviewer to describe the personalities of the people on the unit. Find out how much self-governance exists in the unit and in the overall organization. Do staff nurses have the opportunity to help draft or rewrite policies and procedures?

Ask to see hard data on staff retention and turnover rates, both for the entire hospital and for the unit you’re interviewing with.  You can also ask about the number of grievances the unit has had.

You can even ask to read the minutes of the last few staff meetings, where the manager should have documented any major problems on the unit.

Observe: Take a Visit

In addition to asking questions, you can learn a lot through careful observation.

Look at the unit manager’s office. Is her door open? Is the office located in a place where staff can easily access her?

Visit the unit. Is it clean? How does it smell? If it’s not clean the day you’re there, chances are it won’t be clean when you’re working there either.

Beyond taking a tour, ask to spend at least an hour on the floor. The ideal time is morning, when physicians are making their rounds and the shift is changing, she advises. Note the relationships and how conflicts are handled. Do the people seem relaxed? Is there humor? How do the staff nurses interact with each other, especially with the incoming shift. Do they feel free to approach each other with updates? How do staff interact with the manager? Are the physicians approachable?

Meet and Greet

Ask to speak with key people, including:

•Your future manager, if you haven’t done so already;

•A veteran nurse on the unit;

•The most recently hired nurse or a nurse who has just finished orientation.

You can also ask to speak with a nurse preceptor or mentor in person or over the phone.

After doing all this, you should have a pretty clear idea whether the atmosphere is friendly or fierce, cooperative or cutthroat before you accept a job offer.

Copyright 2010- American Society of Registered Nurses (ASRN.ORG)-All Rights Reserved 


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

Leave a Comment

Please keep in mind that all comments are moderated. Please do not use a spam keyword or a domain as your name, or else it will be deleted. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation instead. Thanks for your comments!

Image Captcha