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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Positive Vibe Protects Nurses from Work Stressors

By Gary Evans, AHC Media Senior Staff Writer

We often dwell on the negative aspects of nursing, trying to raise awareness and protect this indispensable group of healthcare workers. In doing so, however, we create a blind spot. What about all the positive aspects of nursing that contribute to high retention of this indispensable work force?

“I think that in nursing research, as in many other applied science disciplines, there is a natural tendency to focus on addressing problems,” says Robert Sinclair, PhD, a professor of industrial-organizational psychology at Clemson (SC) University. “[That] leads to a focus on reducing negative and stressful aspects of work, rather than recognizing and increasing positive aspects.”

Though noting that nursing research should certainly address such negative factors and attempt to improve them, Sinclair became intrigued with the idea of the other side of equation. What positive aspects of nursing could be identified and leveraged to keep the field viable in the face of shifting demographics?

The result was an ongoing research collaboration called the Oregon Nurse Retention Project, which was founded in 2007 to look at the critical stressors and positive work experiences that influence nurses’ retention.

“Our research shows that positive work experiences contribute directly to various positive outcomes that might be weakened by negative experiences,” Sinclair says. “We have found that experiencing more positive events lead to higher levels of work engagement, occupational and organizational commitment, as well as lower turnover.”

Indeed, experiencing positive events may provide a sort of “immunity” to the harmful effects of negative events.

“Our initial evidence shows that experiencing more events in which one receives support from coworkers helps protect workers from the negative effects of workplace stressors," he says. "This finding is consistent with a very large literature on the health benefits of social support. [Also], positive events could reduce the chances that nurses experience negative health outcomes such as burnout and depression.”

However, the researchers also found that negative events and stressors tend to have a much stronger influence on subsequent poor outcomes.

“So experiencing positive events may be important for enhancing nurses’ engagement and commitment but to avoid negative health outcomes it is also critically important to reduce stressors,” Sinclair says.

For more on the story see the January 2017 issue of Hospital Employee Health.