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Showing appreciation to staff is key to maintaining morale

Nickola Amin suggests a way to survive seasonal pressures while delivering quality care 

Amid reports that the start to winter 2015 was one of the mildest on record and that daffodils were growing in Ayr in December, did your emergency department feel the warm glow or was it business as usual?

We probably all know the answer was the latter and, with attendances ever increasing, I know members of my team are exhausted and struggling to remain optimistic. So leading a group of staff during this time of year is tough; I can't close the doors and I can't make promises that things will get better, so what do I do as their lead?

Well, much to the amusement of some medical colleagues, I use what they call the 'fluffy' stuff, the things that I remember made a difference to my bad days when I was working 12-hour shifts, exhausted and demotivated.

So first I say thank you, in person at handover, when I know the team has had a particularly difficult day: a genuine, heartfelt thank you. I also pass on any thanks I receive by email from the executive team, and I do this to the entire team, not just my senior colleagues.

We also have our 'star of the month' scheme, in which all team members, including security staff, cleaners and receptionists, can be nominated and details of the winner are posted with his or her picture on the matron’s noticeboard. Each winner also receives a coffee shop voucher.

I am lucky to have plenty of staff who rally the team, and they often organise evenings out or breakfasts after night shifts. This is important, because it's good to see one another outside of the job as human beings and enjoy some downtime together.

It's also important to look after ourselves as leaders. Operational as well as clinical pressures make it all too easy to work ridiculously long days. This isn't the answer to our problems and I know from experience that working long hours doesn't make me a better boss; it makes me grumpy and unproductive, and no longer fit to care for my staff. We should adopt the same ethos we use in pre-hospital resuscitation situations and check for danger to ourselves first, so we are safe and can function effectively. We need perspective; we need to be leading the way forward.

I've become stricter at prioritising meetings during times of crisis too, reminding others that clinical care and department safety come first and, even though meetings can be necessary, it's important to look after staff. I'm keen for others to share their experiences of the fluffy stuff, perhaps through RCNi Hub, and maybe we can help each other as we near the end of the performance year for 2015-16. And then it all starts again!

About the author

Nickola Amin

Nickola Amin is directorate senior nurse for emergency medicine at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, Wiltshire.

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