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Learn about Resilience to understand why it is important for nurses

This blog post will help you to learn about resilience and to understand why it is important for nurses. What does resilience mean to you? A nursing colleague recently shared a post on Linkedin about a personal belief on how the word ‘Resilience’ can be loaded with guilt, shame and fear. She felt that the word ‘resilience’ reinforces the belief of not being good enough or that something is wrong with us.

I want like to unpick this a little more in the context of nursing. I agree that ‘resilience is a word that is overused in the nursing literature. I also agree that the word ‘ resilience’ can be subjective and means many things to different people in different professions and different cultures.

Reframing Resilience

I would like to suggest a different way of thinking about ‘resilience’ to one that moves away from guilt, shame and fear. To one of awareness, growth, action and support for our personal health and wellbeing and the personal health and well being of our colleagues in the workplace.

There is no shortage of nursing literature that identifies that globally nursing is in a crisis. The reasons given are excessive workloads, lack of autonomy, bullying, an increase in violence towards staff and organisational change and the need for health care organisations to be able to respond rapidly to changes such as the global pandemic.

The nursing literature also suggests that nurse leaders face many challenges, for example, mastering complexity, managing with finite resources, maintaining high-quality patient care, improving patient experience and retaining and sustaining a satisfied nursing workforce.

There is an increasing debate about the concept of resilience in the nursing literature and how resilience can be developed to help to counteract some of these challenges.

The nursing literature proposes strategies to promote resilience such as reflective practice, self-care and compassion, increasing emotional intelligence, supportive workplaces and maintaining positivity.

This takes a very narrow view of what resilience is and doesn’t draw from the extensive research undertaken by organisational psychology who are progressing our thinking on what resilience is, how to make sense of this in our work context and to understand how we can learn to keep our resilience tool kit topped up.

Resilience is complex, multi-faceted and looks different for every one of us. It isn’t something that you are born with but a dynamic state that changes how we respond to each challenging situation. What works in one situation may not work for us in the next and requires a flexible approach as well as an insight into what our personal coping strategies are and how to tweak and adapt those strategies based on each circumstance.

Resilience isn’t about being tough or taking on more; it’s about a sustainable approach to protecting our health and wellbeing in the long term.

To understand our personal resilience strategies and be able to analyse if they are working and supporting our health and wellbeing, we have first to be able to assess our current levels of resilience.

The seven components of resilience

The Resilience at work (R@W) model developed by Kathryn McEwan and her colleagues; has been specifically designed for the workplace and the challenges that employees face within an organisation.

The R@W scale is part of an R@W toolkit that measures employee, team and leader resilience and has seven components that interrelate, contribute and support overall workplace resilience.

The Seven R@W components are;

  1. Living authentically – understanding your strengths, values, emotional awareness and regulation
  2. Finding your calling– understanding your ‘why’
  3. Maintaining perspective – learning how to reframe setbacks and stay optimistic, minimise negativity.
  4. Mastering stress – having good self-care strategies and learning self-compassion around rest and recovery
  5. Interacting cooperatively– Seeking feedback, advice and support and providing the same to others
  6. Staying healthy – Learning how to nurture yourself in the challenging fast-paced pressured working of nursing
  7. Building networks – Knowing who is in your tribe and identifying who your supporters are both in and out of work.

The important thing to remember is that all these seven areas interrelate and one can’t be seen in isolation from the other.

Resilience toolbox

I like to think about ‘Resilience’ as a toolbox where you store what you have learnt about your own personal resilience and dip into this box when facing tough times and challenges.

For example; some of the things that you might learn about yourself are your strengths, your values, understanding your ‘why’, how to regulate your emotions when under stress. How to silence your inner critic when things don’t go well, how to leave work at work and how to rest and recharge. How to set boundaries and have a difficult conversation are just a few of the tools that you might find in a resilience toolbox.

How your resilience toolbox can help you

As you become more practised in supporting the 7 areas of your personal resilience, your toolbox expands with all those things that you have learnt about yourself. You can apply what you have learnt to any challenging situation. Your confidence grows as a result of what you are learning about how to protect rather than depleting your resilience. This also has a positive impact on your team as they can learn from observing and listening to how you practice what you have learnt to start to build their own resilience toolboxes.

I love viewing resilience in this way because it has a ripple effect from individuals to teams and leaders and starts to grow a community of resilient nurses.

Completing the R@W assessment provides you with a plan that identifies areas that are specific to you that would benefit from being strengthened to support your overall health and well-being. This assessment can also help you to identify those behaviours that might be depleting your toolboxes such as wearing the overworking or superhero or presenteeism badge.

How working with a coach can help to build your resilience

Working with a coach on your assessment report helps you to set realistic goals, take action and supports your growth towards positive strategies that can support you and help you to develop your resilience toolbox.

It is true that when we are feeling our worst, our inner critic is the loudest, it doesn’t have to be that way. As a profession we can’t stand by and let it be that way, the statistics on rates of burnout in the Australian nursing profession are testament to that. We need nurses and need to understand how best to support them in the workplace so that we don’t continue to lose great nurses from the profession.

Working collaboratively with our Organisational Psychology colleagues and learning from their extensive global research, applying this learning to the workplace to develop a broader understanding of what resilience is and how best to support nurses in the workplace is a good place to start.

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About the Author

Eva is a Registered Nurse and a professional Coach. She has 41 years of international nursing experience. She has held senior nursing positions in the UK, Qatar, and Perth, Western Australia.

Eva is passionate about two things, making coaching accessible to nurses and helping nurses who are newly- promoted into a leadership position to navigate the often difficult transition from great clinical nurse to a great nurse leader.

Eva is passionate about helping nurses navigate this transition, as often new nurse leaders suffer from imposter syndrome and don’t know what they don’t know.

Eva writes blog posts that speak to new nurse leaders or nurses who are aspiring to become nurse leaders and shares practical wisdom and tool to help them develop their leadership tool box