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As a new leader, one of your more important initial tasks is how to staff a unit. Here are 10 tips on what you should know.

Properly staffing a nursing unit can be tricky. To secure the right mix of talent and style, you’ll want to first identify your leadership style. You may ask ‘what does my leadership style have to do with properly staffing my nursing unit?” The answer is EVERYTHING!

Your staff looks to you for guidance, vision, insight and instruction. If you’re leadership style is one of assertiveness, that will impact the type of nurses you hire and more importantly, the nurses you retain. If you’re more of a ‘hands off’ director or supervisor, your staff will begin to look for someone in or outside the group for direction.  Strong leadership combined with a participatory environment where you allow your staff to share their ideas tends to work best.

Second, set goals for your unit. When your staff has a clear set of goals they know they need to strive for, the results are usually very good. Strategic goals that align with your hospital or medical center’s overall operational vision and mission will allow your unit to perform at a level that is conducive to not only the organization but the industry at large.

Open communication is key. Successful nurse managers are not only open to communication from and between their staff, they encourage it. Don’t be afraid to ask your staff’s opinion on new direction, decisions about equipment purchases, operational issues and general staffing needs. It shows that you, as the leader, are confident in your position and more importantly, you respect your staff and their opinions.

You and your staff will most likely spend more time together than you do with your family and friends. For that reason, place a heavy focus on building relationships with your staff. Get to know their work styles and foster their strengths. Work hard not to try and ‘fit the square peg into the round hole.’ For example, some nurses work better tending to the patient’s needs but aren’t strong in family relations. If you know that about the nurse, don’t assign them to work closely with the patient’s family members. Assign an alternate. In addition, keep your relationship with your staff members professional. Set clear boundaries.

Be approachable. As a leader, you’ll want to incorporate an “open-door” policy with your unit. Nurses operate in a very stressful environment and when they know they can freely and easily go to their director or supervisor with concerns, you’re more apt to have a unit that runs smoothly and efficiently.

There is nothing worse than a nurse who musters up the courage to come to you as their leader, voice a concern and then have no action taken and no acknowledgement. Recognize concerns. Even if there’s not a lot you can do about their concern, i.e. it’s a higher level issue that is out of your control, take the time to verbally express your understanding and compassion with their concern. It will go a long way in keeping your nurses happy and motivated.

Hold daily standing (literally standing; no sitting because it prolongs meetings) 10 minute staff meetings.  Ask your staff to come to the daily meeting with one item they want to bring to the attention of the staff. Be clear that each of them have a set amount of time to discuss it and then move on to the next. Issues that require more attention should be addressed at a later time. This keeps the lines of communication open; allows each nurse to share their concerns and questions but doesn’t get bogged down in minutia.

Nip problems in the bud. And don’t play the blame game. Allowing problems within the unit to fester is a sure way to create problems, dissention and ultimately a breakdown in quality and performance. Listen to your staff member’s problem. Address it immediately and move on.

Let off steam. Ask your staff for their input on how they, as a unit, can engage in some calm, enlightening activities to take place during a quick break, before a shift or off site. Maybe bring in a yoga instructor to show your staff some simple stretches. Play peaceful ‘spa’ music in the breakroom for 10 minutes during every shift. This effort will keep your staff fresh, motivated and teach them how to reduce stress.

All work and no play becomes unproductive. So have fun! Break the monotony with a ‘joke of the day’ or quick funny video from You Tube. Nurses who deal with life and death situations need to laugh and have fun so incorporate something funny and humorous into your staff’s work environment, always making sure it is appropriate and in keeping with your organizations standards.