Healthcare HR and Nursing Leadership: Synergy in Practice

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Beginning with personnel management in the mid-20th century, healthcare human resource (HR) professionals have partnered with nursing to improve work environments and patient care. Today, as health systems merge and healthcare professional roles and care models rapidly change, this synergy in practice between healthcare HR and nursing leaders is an essential underpinning of organizational success.

This case study describes leadership synergy in practice between healthcare HR and senior nursing leaders within a recently merged healthcare organization whose entities have achieved ANCC Magnet Recognition®.

A History of Human Caring

For more than a century, the professions of human resources and nursing have been influenced and shaped by inspirational leaders dedicated to improving the human condition and caring for others.

Australian-born George Elton Mayo is considered the father of Human Resource Management, conducting experiments in the 1920’s to determine how workers were affected by fatigue, work hours and breaks. Under a Rockefeller grant in 1922, Mayo joined the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School to investigate high labor turnover in the textile mills. Later, at Harvard University, Mayo designed investigations into the personal and social factors determining work output of the Western Electric Company’s Chicago plant known as the Hawthorne experiments. This work contributed to Mayo being considered one of the most controversial social scientists of his day.

Florence Nightingale changed the face of nursing from assisting physicians in patient care to the educated, highly-skilled and respected nursing professionals they are today. In 1854, while caring for British soldiers wounded in the Crimean war, Nightingale observed hospital conditions to be unsanitary and overcrowded, resulting in patients dying from infection and disease. With this information, Nightingale took steps to lead her nurses to improve the environment in ways that resulted in a decreased incidence of infections and diseases. Nightingale’s leadership style, rooted in caring and compassion, used data and information to influence nursing in a way that improved the nursing work environment and patient outcomes.

Today, the relationship between healthcare HR and nursing professionals is integral to supporting new collaborative models of leadership that are patient-centered, and require workforce skills in relational coordination, inspirational leadership, honesty, and commitment to outstanding communication. Organizational measurements on employee retention, management effectiveness, communication, and work-life balance can be traced to the early scientific analyses and experiments of Mayo and Nightingale. This mutual accountability between nursing and human resources fosters a win-win partnership that supports a strong, productive, and positive workforce.

The Organization

In January 2015, Scottsdale Healthcare merged with the John C. Lincoln Health Network to form HonorHealth, a five-hospital healthcare system serving Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona. With more than 10,500 employees, all hospitals are Magnet-designated. Scottsdale Shea Medical Center, where the authors served as chief human resource and nursing executives over the course of two years, includes an emergency department with a dedicated pediatric ER, a certified chest pain center and heart attack center, bariatric surgery center of excellence, total joint replacement center, cardiology, oncology, bone marrow transplant, Level III Neonatal ICU, Pediatric ICU, pediatrics and women’s services.

Magnet as a Framework for Aligned Priorities

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Magnet Recognition Program® provides a framework to align priorities between human resources and nursing, grounded in the Magnet® model components of structural empowerment and transformational leadership. In organizations that have achieved ANCC Magnet Recognition®, structures that support employee engagement positively impact the nursing professional practice environment, and chief nursing officers are expected to develop a strong vision and philosophy, communicate expectations effectively, develop others and lead the organization to meet strategic priorities. These priorities mandate a strong partnership with the human resources executive to address the areas of workforce planning, recruitment, staffing,  job role redesign, development, employee relations, compensation, and engagement.

Synergy in practice

Integrating human resource and nursing perspectives, particularly in the midst of merging two healthcare systems, is foundational to synergy realization — the similarity and complementarity of two
merging forces. Within this nursing/HR leadership dyad, it is imperative to acknowledge subject matter expertise, manage up and support mutual collaboration.

This mindset includes modeling collaborative behaviors, exhibiting positive two-way communication, and building a relationship that emphasizes human dignity, the value of work, and a balance of needs. The first critical piece in establishing a good working relationship is a respect for boundaries on both sides and a willingness to call time out when issues need redirection. It is also critically important that nursing have confidence in the HR competencies of their partner both in the employee relations world and also in the business knowledge of the nursing world, creating the synergy for success.

Through synergy in practice, HonorHealth HR and nursing executive leadership conducted an environmental scan of a pressing unit workforce issue that posed a potential interruption to patient care. The successful outcome of this process would have been difficult to accomplish if there had not been the level of trust between nursing and healthcare HR that supported the facilitation of an open, unbiased employee engagement process that produced actionable responses. Over the course of two years, the authors often called upon one another for advisement, debriefing, and consultation in their daily work, which included drug diversion, employee harassment, complaints about an employee from patients and staff, engagement challenges, managerial competence, and legal issues.

When healthcare human resources and nursing leaders commit to improving workforce engagement and creating positive professional practice environments through leadership synergy, the ability to navigate the complex challenges inherent in today’s healthcare environment is enhanced. Individual and organizational goals are achieved through collaborative coordination that ultimately improves the quality of care for patients, families and the communities we serve.

Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of HR Pulse Magazine and has been published here with permission from the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) of the American Hospital Association (AHA).

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About The Editorial Staff

The Editorial Staff is a team of writers with a passion for helping healthcare organizations manage their biggest and most important investment: their employees.