Career advice

Show courage: Don't be afraid to ask your manager for support

It's part of a nurse's role to offer kindness and care, but how brave do they feel when asking for them themselves?

It's part of a nurse's role to offer kindness and care, but how brave do they feel when asking for them themselves?

Picture: iStock

I recently attended our local operatic society’s production of The Wizard of Oz. It was a great evening, with lots of glitz and a fair few innuendos thrown in to keep us on our toes. 

Yet when the drama and hilarity was over, it wasn’t just the colourful costumes that stuck in my mind; I kept thinking about the Cowardly Lion and how his apparent lack of bravery brought him such shame. 

Fortunately, it all worked out in the end. The Cowardly Lion would say the Wizard ‘gave’ him courage, but what we really saw was the lion finding strengths he had all along.

This led me to reflect on the notion of courage and where it fits into the skill set you need to survive as a nurse. Regardless of how competent you are, there are always going to be times when you need additional support, whether this is an extra pair of hands or a listening ear. 

Nurses readily offer kindness and support to those in their care, but how courageous do you feel asking for this for yourself?

You don’t need me to spell out how much pressure you are under each time you step on shift. This pressure accumulates and can wear you down, and everyone has a ‘tipping point’ where things you coped with previously suddenly feel overwhelming. 

Work-related stress

Findings from the 2017 NHS staff survey acknowledge that work-related stress is an increasing problem in healthcare, but the good news is that more staff reported feeling supported by their line managers, with the vast majority feeling that their manager takes an interest in their health and well-being. 

Even though the evidence appears to show line managers want to support frontline staff, it is important to remember that they aren’t mind readers. Just like an iceberg in the ocean, no one can really know what’s happening underneath your professional persona. 

If you constantly wear your ‘I’m fine’ mask, even when you are nearing breaking point, colleagues may assume you are okay. So take a deep breath, flex your ‘brave’ muscles and ask to speak to your manager. 

Where possible, take a moment beforehand to think about what you want to say and what you are looking for. 

Consider these tips:

  • Don’t apologise for asking for help but try to be as clear as you can about what the issues are. Do you need practical help at work or do you need emotional support? 
  • Focus on facts and avoid relaying gossip, criticising fellow nurses or blaming everything on the ‘system’. 
  • Watch how you say things as well as what you say. Being defensive won’t help, and may instead act as a barrier to much-needed support. 
  • Offer solutions if you have them, and discuss what has worked and what hasn’t in the past.

While managers can offer professional support and guidance, they cannot act as your counsellor. If you feel you need more than they can offer, don’t be afraid to refer yourself to occupational health or visit your GP. 

Remember that you have a professional duty to look after yourself as well as your patients, so muster up your courage and take the first step towards feeling stronger again.

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Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

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