​The pandemic hit staff hard. Personal protective equipment scarcity, staff shortages, required COVID-19 testing, working overtime, vaccine mandates—and the list goes on. Simply put, many staff feel disempowered. This feeling, if not addressed, can lead to further turnover.​

​​Value is Power 

Staff empowerment, on the other hand, allows staff to make independent decisions and act on them. Empowered staff are valued and listened to. They stay with their current employers and encourage others to join the team. They have greater job satisfaction. They are happy and want to come to work.

These individuals are employees nursing homes want and need, especially now when staff retention efforts are so important.

Several facilities report that they are limiting admissions because of a lack of staff. Some organizations are unable to find qualified staff. To add to the frustration, multiple facilities are vying for the same small pool of candidates; one organization’s new hire is often another facility’s recent departure. In today’s market, an organization that values and treats staff well is the place employees will go. 

Consider Mary: She has been mandated to work overtime and comes to work for the 14th day in a row. When she tries to explain she is too tired to work any additional days, her supervisor criticizes her for not being a team player. The next day, she is told she must receive the COVID-19 vaccination or she will be fired. She wants additional information on the vaccine; though she was given a pamphlet to review, she doesn’t feel that it addressed all of her questions.

She is frustrated, overwhelmed, and considering leaving her current position as a certified nurse assistant (CNA) and abandoning her dream of becoming a nurse. 

​​A Common Scenario

Mary’s friend Yvonne tells her about her own employer, another nursing home on the other side of town. Yvonne shares that her facility also has several of the same mandates but also explains that her concerns are heard and, when possible, her input is acted upon.

For example, when the vaccine mandate was implemented, members of the leadership team provided support, shared additional information to address specific concerns, and facilitated a group discussion where staff came together to talk freely about vaccine concerns. Yvonne also reports that when there are call offs, the entire team works together to share the burden of the additional hours.

To Mary, this sounds like a much better environment for her, so she applies for a position where Yvonne works and leaves her current position. 

Although the above example highlights a CNA, staff who feel disempowered work in many positions across all departments. Mary left because she felt she wasn’t being heard.

Employee empowerment is about allowing staff the autonomy to flourish, according to a 2020 article published at www.business.com titled, “Trust the Process: 13 Tips to Empower and Encourage Your Staff.”

Empowered employees are more likely to:

  • Embrace change
  • Be more productive 
  • Show an interest in improvement
  • Have a good attitude toward work
  • Provide better care
  • Follow best practices.

Moreover, empowering employees increases employee retention and job satisfaction, improves interaction with residents, and enhances accountability within the team.

Management practices significantly affect employees’ sense of empowerment. Here are eight strategies nurse leaders can adopt to improve staff empowerment. 

1. Encourage communication and information sharing.

Empowering employees requires trust, and trust is built through clear communication and valuing input from others. Encourage information sharing, and emphasize that all ideas are welcome. During the next team meeting, use clear communication and ask for input from staff at all levels. Staff who feel their input is valued are more likely to come to their supervisor with problems and solutions.

Moreover, when employees contribute input, act on it when possible. Share how staff contributions improve care and outcomes. Remember that actions can speak louder than words and demonstrate to the team that their feedback makes a difference.

2. Recognize employees for hard work.

Recognition and appreciation for hard work increase the likelihood the person will repeat it. Make it a priority to recognize and thank a staff member daily. Be specific about the actions they did that you appreciate. Recognize the efforts of other departments, and convey how their contribution helps improve care for the residents. 

3. Provide coaching and mentoring.

Effective coaching and mentoring help staff to understand what they need improvement on and offer solutions they can act on. Don’t delay coaching and mentoring. Instead, address issues as they are identified, and take action.

Additionally, encourage staff who have demonstrated mastery in their role to mentor others. Cultivating an environment of continuous improvement and mutual reinforcement not only acknowledges the importance of each individual’s contributions, but also builds the skillset of the entire team.

4. Learn flexibility.

Look beyond how things have historically been done, and consider instead how they could be done. One example is flexible scheduling, tailored to meet the needs of staff. Staff will feel empowered, are more likely to show up, and are more likely to be productive at work. Ask staff if they have ideas to improve processes. 

5. Foster growth.

Provide growth opportunities for all staff. When possible, provide professional development across departments. Create a career ladder so that employees see opportunities for advancement within the organization. Discuss career aims with staff to better understand their goals and wants. Tailor educational offerings based on the requests of staff. One key way to both empower and retain staff is to help them to envision a rewarding future within the organization.

6. Engage with employees one-on-one.

Take the time to sit with employees, ask about their day and how things are going. Get to know staff on a personal level. Staff feel empowered when their managers listen to them and show concern about their well-being. 

7. Listen to concerns.

When engaging with employees one-on-one, take time to listen to their concerns. If they voice any issues, take action to address concerns they raise. An employee who feels unheard or ignored is likely to disengage from the organization. Conversely, employees who feel heard and supported are more likely to bring issues forward. 

8. Be forgiving.

An empowered staff takes risks, and there are times when those risks yield unintended consequences. If adverse effects are handled improperly, staff might avoid taking any risks in the future—even those that could pay off. Employee empowerment is about enabling staff to feel confident to take calculated risks and make autonomous decisions. 

In order for staff to grow, heal, and recover from the trauma of the pandemic and contend with all the COVID-related mandates, organizations need to re-examine how they handle the non-COVID mandates. By providing employee empowerment opportunities, facilities can engage staff to help guide those efforts. 

Amy Stewart, MSN, RN, DNS-MT, QCP-MT, RAC-MT, RAC-MTA, is vice president of education and certification strategy at the American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing (AAPACN). She can be reached at astewart@aapacn.org​. ​​