Heartfelt messages build team morale

Springfield | April 9, 2018
Nurses pass notes of appreciation

Working opposite shifts can make it difficult—if nearly impossible—for team members to get to know each other. The staff nurse in one hospital unit vowed to make it easier.

Rebekah Hartzog, RN, works on the Mother-Baby unit at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center-RiverBend in Springfield, Oregon. When she saw morale in her area dip, she looked for team-building opportunities.

But it had to be easy. And inexpensive. There was no budget or time for the staff from three different shifts to go off-site or participate in some elaborate program.

“I thought if we can have an exchange from shift-to-shift, that would be a positive encounter to help us connect with each other,” Rebekah said.

With pink paper hearts and a box, she launched an appreciation initiative dubbed “The Heart of the Matter.”

Rebekah put blank paper hearts out on a table and asked incoming and outgoing nurses every day to take one. On one side of the heart, each incoming nurse would write the name of the outgoing nurse they were replacing. On the other side of the heart, the nurse would write a positive attribute of that person.

Outgoing nurses did the same for their incoming colleagues.

All of the hearts were deposited in a box.

“At the end of a few weeks I pulled the cards out and hung them on the wall showing the attributes only,” Rebekah said.

What happened next was thrilling. Nurses would stop by the wall of hearts and peek at the backs of the hearts to see the name behind the attribute, she said.

Examples of some sentiments and attributes:

  • “I feel safe working with you”
  • “You are a brilliant nurse”
  • “You cross every T and Dot every I”

Members of the team could be overheard, expressing happy surprise when they discovered what was written about them. Some would say “I had no idea that's how people see me.”

“It was very interactive and fun,” said Rebekah. Even weeks later, “I’m thrilled to see people still check out and enjoy the wall on their way to the locker room.”

Boosting team morale didn’t only make caregivers on the unit feel good. It has also had a positive impact on their patients. When staff care for each other, it transfers to the patients and their families.

Feeling appreciated “makes you pause and puts you in a positive space before you enter a patient's room,” she said. It improves continuity of care and “patients ultimately feel more supported when staff get along.”

Seeing the success of the Heart of the Matter project encouraged Rebekah to expand her team-building efforts. She’s working on similar projects for other units, again with the intent to help bridge and build emotional connections across the divide inherently created by different work shifts.

“I believe that if we improve communication and connection among ourselves, we improve patient care,” she said.