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Delegation tips for busy nurses

Delegation tips for busy nurses

Many nurses feel daunted at the prospect of delegating, but it’s an important skill and one worth mastering. Done well, it can free up some of your time to focus on more complex patient cases, as well as helping to develop the skills of nursing support staff.

It’s important that you are clear on your responsibilities as a RN under the NMC code. If you’re in any doubt, the RCN has a handy guide to Accountability and Delegation.

That said, here are eight tips that will help make delegating that bit easier.

1. Get to know the support staff

Whether you’re a newly qualified nurse or working somewhere for the first time, it’s worth making an effort to get to know the HCAs and nursing assistants on the team. Ask them when they started, how long they’ve been on the unit, and what they enjoy about the job. Finding common ground through shared interests or hobbies may also help to build rapport.

‘It takes time to build respect (on both sides) but building rapport with the nursing support staff will make it that much easier when you come to delegate. After you’ve spent time with the team, you will get a better feel for individual competencies and preferred communication styles,’ says Heike Guilford, Managing Director of The Coaching Nurse and author of How to fill 50 jobs in 90 days.

2. Create a team atmosphere

Use the handover meeting at the start of your shift to decide on priorities, and allocate these balancing individual preferences for tasks within the overall skill mix.

‘Go through the appointments in the diary and explain any changes in individual care plans, recent medical changes and risk assessments to respond to changing client needs,’ advises Heike.

‘When support staff feel part of the team, they are more likely to take the initiative and offer to help when they see that a task needs doing.’

3. Assign tasks fairly

It might seem easier to give the more demanding or interesting assignments to someone you know is capable, but it doesn’t help to develop others on the team who might need a bit more guidance.

‘Before assigning less favourable tasks, ask for volunteers. All tasks should be shared evenly, so that one person isn’t always landed with the jobs no one else wants. Showing favouritism can lead to distrust and creates division in the team,’ warns Heike.

4. Be clear in your communication

In order to effectively delegate a task, you need to give clear, concise and detailed instructions. This includes the objective, any identified limits, and expected outcomes.

Heike says: ‘Don’t rush through the instructions and then dash off. Ask if the person you are delegating to has any questions, concerns or feedback, and check that they can complete the task within the expected time frame, as they may be working with several other patients.

‘Taking time to communicate clearly at the start is the best way to ensure that the task is carried out properly, safely and efficiently.’

5. Help staff develop

Delegating isn’t just about freeing up more of your time – it’s an opportunity to develop the nursing support staff. Part of that means offering guidance and support if the person you are delegating to lacks confidence or does something in a way that could be improved.

‘Your support staff spend the most amount of time with your patients and will get to know them often better than you do. Before you judge, ask questions to learn why a member of staff chooses to do certain tasks in a certain way before you give any feedback,’ says Heike.

‘Avoid the temptation to swoop in and take over if someone makes a mistake or is taking too long. Spending a few minutes to direct and explain will help to boost their confidence and ensure they get it right next time.’

6. Remember to say thank you

It might be the HCA’s job to empty the bedpans, but doesn’t everyone like a thank you?

Heike says: ‘Taking a moment to properly appreciate someone (look them in the eye, use their name, and say what you are thanking them for) will make them feel valued, and in turn, more motivated to help you again. If you feel under-appreciated yourself, it’s even more important to act how you would like to be treated.

‘Review the day with your team and note positive aspects, making sure to celebrate small achievements and success.’

7. Evaluate outcomes and offer constructive feedback

As a registered nurse, you must offer direct supervision and feedback as needed – and also be available in case an unexpected outcome occurs. That means reflecting with staff on incidents, determining what went well, and highlighting areas for improvement.

Heike says: ‘Be sure to review factors contributing to things going amiss and work together on an action plan to prevent repeat occurrences. Focus on creating a learning experience that can be shared within your team and contribute to ongoing quality improvement in your service.’

8. Offer to help in return

Your team helps you out during your shift, so it’s only right to help them if you have time to do so.

Heike says: ‘The more you lead by example and extend kindness to support staff, the more willing they will be to return the favour to you. The tasks might be basic and within the HCA’s job description but pulling together is part of what makes a strong team.

‘Ask your staff how you can help them out. This may mean relieving them of a basic task, letting them have a short break or offering an open ear and a helping hand.’

1 comment… add one
  • Rachel, this is a great article with more important matters touched. The nursing job is incredibly hard, challenging, frustrating and the same time a very rewarding career.

    The work itself centres around having a dedicated team of staff, working together and giving patient safety the most priority. Unfortunately, it’s the nursing managers, who should be blamed for the lack of morals in the profession. I have seen many talented nurses quitting at high alarming rates. Being a nurse manager, doesn’t mean becoming dictatorial to your subordinates, it doesn’t mean creating different factions against each other, it doesn’t mean alienating members of staff, it doesn’t mean being self-centred imposing your authority without listening first, it doesn’t mean using the blame game, it doesn’t mean closing doors for open dialogue, ideas, criticisms and suggestions.

    However, it all comes down to few factors. It’s about showing leadership, having a clear vision for the team, inspiration, empathy, respect, responsibility, maturity, good communication, delegation of tasks based on competency, prioritising patients needs, innovation, reduction of wasteful spending through cost-effective means, and finally embarking on good policies that promotes the interests of everyone.


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