Motivating Burnt-Out Staff

Specialties Psychiatric


Hi guys, I thought you all might be able to offer some advice, please. Here's my situation:

I recently starting my first RN job at a psychiatric hospital. I really like my position in general, but it "irks" me when I feel like I'm one of the only few staff members pulling my weight. The other RN on the floor, in between prolonged 'smoke breaks,' stays inside a small room adjoining the nursing desk area all night, out of sight, mostly watching movies on her Kindle, and leaves me to answer all the phones and be in the front line of any question or issue that arises with the patients, regardless of whether they're even 'assigned' to me. I don't mind the work, it's just feeling "used" by the other RN that frustrates me. I wouldn't mind if the other RN would pull some of the weight... I don't even mind doing most of the extra stuff that arises during the night, but having to do it ALL seems a little bogus... Is there a polite way to bring this up to her? I was thinking another option might be to stay in the other assessment room farthest from the desk for a few hours, forcing her to step up to answer the phones and handle patient issues at least sometimes. I feel it's better to say something now before she (the other RN) gets too adjusted to the status quo, but at the same time, I worry that where I'm new she'll not respect what I have to say. Does anyone have any advice how to motivate people to pull their share? The other RN has worked at this job for years, and I think is a little "burnt out." She's always nice to me; it's just my fear of confrontation that keeps me from saying anything.

Anyone have any similar stories?

Specializes in Hospice, corrections, psychiatry, rehab, LTC.

I gather from your reluctance to confront unit staff that you aren't in charge, and you cannot directly affect change. The nurse who spends most of the shift using her Kindle is likely breaking all manner of facility rules. Every facility I have ever worked in has an absolute prohibition on bringing such devices to work for just this reason. This nurse is obviously deliberately dodging responsibility and just drawing a paycheck. Whether it is due to burnout or some other reason, it is placing an undue burden on other staff.

Interrupt her any time one of the patients assigned to her comes to the desk. Her obsession with her personal electronic device and her chronic hiding out should be reported to your nurse manager. Someone who so blatantly disregards both facility rules and the effects of her actions on coworkers is not likely to respond to a subtle approach.

Thanks for the reply, Orca. I tend to agree with you; so many people abuse these devices that enforcing a blanket rule might be the best option. I personally don't necessarily see a problem in using such a device in restraint and moderation... with "moderation" being the operative word, sort of like how someone might bring a paperback or work a crossword for the "in-between" times. For better or worse, the night shift supervisors are pretty lenient with electronic devices. I do have a Kindle myself that I read sometimes, along with most of the night shift nurses, while I'm sitting at the front desk, waiting for the next thing to come up. The funny thing is, I'm afraid I look like a slacker for reading or playing a card game at the front desk, while the other RN is hidden away in the backroom fully engrossed in Batman Returns. :bugeyes: I definitely don't isolate myself in the backroom watching movies with my headphones on; I'd feel like too crappy a team player to do that. :mad:

We have a brand new nurse manager on the unit and I don't yet have much of a rapport with her. I hate to report the other RN and risk starting a war when I barely even know the new manager. The ideal thing by far would be if she, the other RN, would just step up (is it possible she could really be oblivious that she's not taking responsibility?), but after looking at the options, I wonder if the best thing isn't to just spend a couple hours each night in the room even farther down the hallway myself, which would force her to take responsibility at least some of the time since then she'd be closest to the phones and patients. I hate thinking this way, but I don't want to get burnt out so soon either, if that's what's going on with her... Urgh.

Specializes in Hospice, corrections, psychiatry, rehab, LTC.

Waiting for someone else to take care of the situation is only going to add to your frustration. If that were going to happen, it would likely have happened before you hired on. Moving somewhere else in the unit might only lead to allegations that you are hiding too, that what you are doing is no different than the behavior of your loafing coworker. Besides, she doesn't seem too worried about caring for patients, and what you have proposed would likely only lead to more patient complaints, which reflects negatively on everyone.

From what I have read in your posts, you tend to take a passive approach to problem solving. That will not serve you well in nursing. Assertiveness (not to be confused with aggressiveness) is a positive trait. There will be times when you have to stand up for your patients, your unit and yourself. Frustration results when you allow others to control the situation, or wait for others to act when you have identified a problem. Taking control of a situation yourself is very liberating. I understand that your relative inexperience may make you reluctant to intervene with more experienced nurses, but not doing so only allows this situation to continue. Being an experienced nurse does not give one open license to sit back while others do all the work.

If you are reluctant to go to the nurse manager right away, try having a conversation with this nurse. Explain to her how her staying out of the nurse station adds to everyone else's workload. If she dismisses your concerns, then you have tried. If the behavior continues, take it to the next level.

Specializes in Forensic Psychiatric Nursing.

I had that situation in a former workplace. A coworker would sit in the day room with the patients and watch TV for hours at a time. I told him to stay out of my way while I did the work. He had no problem with that, he sat and watched TV while I did my thing. He fought tooth and nail to not work, and was chapter and verse of the union code for not working.

Needless to say he was promoted to management and I got fired.

Lesson: Don't mess with a roach. They'll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

Another nurse told me to keep a notebook with dates and times of what you (I) did, what the coworker didn't do, cite hospital policy, etc.

Thanks for the thoughtful responses, Orca. My instincts tell me to approach the other RN, and if that doesn't help, take it to a higher level. Reading that someone else thinks the same thing is really affirming. I just need to get over my fear of confronting co-workers...

I feel like she might be really responsive to a simple question, like, "How would you feel about taking turns at the front desk?" We'll see how that goes...

Algebra, thanks for sharing. Looking back on that situation, do you think you would have confronted your co-worker in the first place, or gone straight to management? Keeping a log sounds like a good idea.

Specializes in Hospice, corrections, psychiatry, rehab, LTC.
I just need to get over my fear of confronting co-workers...

When you do, you will feel like a load has been lifted off you. Fear of conflict can put you in a lot of bad situations in which you suffer quietly while others - who couldn't care less - continue to take advantage of you.

I feel like she might be really responsive to a simple question, like, "How would you feel about taking turns at the front desk?" We'll see how that goes...

It's worth a shot. That way you aren't accusing her of anything, just recommending changing up your assignments. Let us know how it goes.

Specializes in Forensic Psychiatric Nursing.

Well, I'm glad I'm out of there anyway. I've moved on. In some ways it's the best thing that could have happened to me. It lit a fire under me to improve myself. In another three years, I'm not going to have to worry about that kind of thing quite so much.

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