Work Engagement and Authentic Caring – Is there a connection?

The Question 

I’m doing a TALK this week at the International Association of Human Caring Annual Conference in Greenville, SC.

The real, bottom line question I address in the Talk is, How do we embolden nurses’ desire to care authentically amid the pressures of their clinical demands in healthcare organizations? 

First of all, if the thought, “nurses don’t want to care authentically” just popped up in your mind, I make the argument in my Talk that nurses (> 95%) do want to authentically connect with patients more often….  based on my own experiences, which is the heart of my book.

So ….

The Lesson for Nurse Leaders is,    

If we want nurses to be fully engaged and activate their desire to care authentically more often, then nurse leaders have to lead authentic caring differently and more visibly. 

The Quagmire of Leading Authentic Caring – Keep It Simple, _____.  

We have to get real here, leading authentic caring is leading the invisible.  Healthcare people don’t like the invisible, they just don’t like to go there.

That’s why the more simple our words and language, the better.

Our words and language have to be in ways that hospital administrator types or resistant nurses might follow.

Take note-  patients & families get it.  Yes, they want nice and kind and responsive nurses …. but increasingly, they want human connection as part of their health and wellness,  and they are turning to nurses for those holistic responses.

Nurses get it.  When given the opportunity to have real conversations about their caring experiences, nurses lean in.  Hundreds of nurses I worked with knew intuitively that my questions about their experiences were real, not nurse-boss exchanges. They did not walk away.

Nurses are hungry to talk about their caring practices.  It’s just that our clinical environments are void of caring language and literacy.  Nurse leaders tend to get caught up in putting out fires, and see no path for higher level conversations.

Enter Work Engagement Theory & Research. 

That’s why I’m intrigued by work engagement theory and research.  Can this help us? 

Might work engagement provide an easy path for taking authentic caring into organizations on a grand collective scale?

What work engagement offers. Like caring science, engagement theory connects some invisible dots in the life of a nurse. It illustrates the elements of authentic caring in simple ways.

Look at these 3 fundamentals of Work Engagement literature (see below).  They perfectly connect the invisible dots of authentic caring.

  1. Stress undermines engagement
  2. Engagement requires 2 resources:
    1. organizational resources to mitigate job stress
    2. (nurses’) inner resources to navigate personal stressors

There is a lot of research on nurse engagement, something like 60 research articles in nursing and leadership literature in the past 3 years!   Nurse engagement is highly correlated to stress, effectiveness, outcomes, satisfaction, resilience, wellbeing, etc

I’m sure that engagement is highly correlated to authentic caring.  Clearly, nurse engagement is an antecedent to authentic caring.

The Path Less Traveled

The one thing that is rarely explored in these nurse work engagement articles is ‘nurses’ inner resources to navigate personal stressors’. (one exception: Dimensions of Critical Care Nursing, 2014, Mason et al)

Caring science. This is one area that caring science does extensively explore.  There is extensive exploration and research on the importance of nurses’ self-care and inner resource cultivation to navigate personal stressors. There’s some of this research in nursing leadership literature.

The problem is, we in nursing leadership in healthcare organizations have not figured out how to mainstream cultivation of nurses’ self-care, inner resources and caring consciousness within our organizational structures.

My Mission, My Aim

We in nursing have left self-care and inner work up to each nurse as their responsibility;  and it is… But in today’s clinical environment, nurses can no longer do it alone without nurse leader support.

And nurse leaders need doable approaches that can give that support to nurses. That’s my aim.

We have to find ways to make authentic caring cultivation a routine in healthcare organizations.

Question:  It seems to me that work engagement is a good vehicle to situate authentic caring cultivation in organizations.  Might work engagement knowledge and research, given its acceptance and prominence in nursing leadership literature,  be a vehicle for exploring nurses’ caring consciousness cultivation ?  It seems that this should be right in there with outcomes, resilience, satisfaction, etc

If above link doesn’t work:     Christian et al, Work engagement: a quantitative review and test of its … – ResearchGate https://www.researchgate.net/file.PostFileLoader.html?id…assetKey…

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