6 Interview Questions to Find a Healthy Work Environment

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It's interesting how searching for a nursing job has evolved over the years. For me, it started back in 2008 when I was simply looking for a hospital that would hire a new grad with less than a year of CNA experience. Now that I have a few years under my belt, I'm able to be a little more selective in where I want to work and hopefully find a job that will be a good fit for everyone involved. It's important to take advantage of that searching phase and interview your future employer as much as they're interviewing you. This means using your excellent assessment skills to ask thoughtful questions during the interview and using your observation skills when taking a tour of the unit and hospital campus. It's amazing what you can pick up! When I was working as a nurse manager, I loved having nurses from other units express interest in working critical care and ask to shadow a nurse for day. Not only does it give them chance to see the kind of work they'll be doing, but they can ask questions to the staff. Do what you need to do to make an informed and educated decision, weigh the pros and cons, and know what your deal breakers are. 

Here's the thing though, sometimes having experience and a stellar resume doesn't mean you're guaranteed to find employment. I feel lucky to be working in an area that has amazing job security and not everyone has the luxury of being picky in their job search. But if the conditions are right, it lends itself to a nurse being able to thoroughly vet their future employer. 

As a nurse who has gone through burnout, I want to do everything in my power to keep that from happening again. That means when I'm choosing a place to work, I want to ask specific questions that will help me determine if it's an area where I'll thrive. I've created some questions to ask your interviewer based off the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) 6 standards for a healthy work environment, one of the best resources I've found when it comes to burnout reduction and prevention. I also asked my Instagram followers on @the.burnoutbook to share their favorite questions with me, and the list below reflects a few of those as well! 

As a disclaimer, we all know burnout is multi-faceted and complicated. So many factors can play a role, some are in our control while others aren't. These questions will help guide you in making a decision where the risk of burnout might be lessened, but it will still exist. With that being said, let's dive into these questions! 

1. Staffing: What is the nurse to patient ratio? Does acuity play a role when deciding on staffing? Does the charge nurse take patients? 

I realize that's three questions, but each of them reflects a different angle of how a unit approaches staffing. Every facility is different and it's never safe to assume anything . Some places of the country have unions and mandated staffing ratios, while other areas bend the rules and an ICU nurse may take 3 or 4 patients. Again, know what your deal breakers are and ask those staffing questions because inappropriate staffing can be one of the quickest paths to burnout. You can also ask how often the unit is short-staffed, if they have any travel nurses helping out, what the nurse assistant/aide staffing ratios are, how often people are picking up extra shifts, or how often vacation time is denied. That can also guide you through the conversation about appropriate staffing. 

2. Communication: How does important information get communicated to all the staff? 

Skilled communication is such a key part of a healthy work environment. What I like about this question is that it addresses the issue of how information trickles down from hospital leadership and how the manager makes sure that it gets to the front line staff. You don't want to be in a place where they send out one email or post one flyer and expect everyone to be on the same page. You'll can ask questions about nursing handoffs, communication during rounds, or about policies surrounding family conferences to get more insight. Another great question came from an Instagram follower about asking how the unit or hospital patient satisfaction scores are doing. I think it's really important for management be be transparent in a unit's HCAHPS scores with the staff members, they're the ones who need to know what areas they're doing well in and what can be improved on!

3. Collaboration: Can you describe the interdisciplinary team relationship with the nursing staff? What kind of ancillary support is available on day shift vs. night shift? 

Any burden is easier to bear when there's a teamwork approach. Collaboration with others is an essential part of providing excellent patient care! What would we do without respiratory therapy? Without the case managers and social workers? And heaven knows we need our physicians, PAs, and NPs! However, going from one facility to another, there may be some resources you're used to having that won't be available. Some other questions to include would be if there some kind of provider available in house 24/7? Who is present during rounds? Is there a rapid response team or a resources nurse? Definitely explore this in the interview! 

4. Decision Making: Do you have a unit based council or a hospital-wide nursing practice council? 

In any future job, I'm going to want to know if nurses are involved in the decision making. So many times it falls to nursing staff to implement change, but when that change is being discussed, nurses are rarely in the room where it happens. I have a lot of respect for a workplace that will actively seek nursing input prior to rolling out any new initiatives! You could ask them to provide an example of how nurses have been involved with the decision making or what unit improvement projects they're currently working on! (In my last interview there was an awkward pause after I asked the interviewer about unit projects...) I love when a manger says that they have an interview process that involves the staff! While some people might find this intimidating, it’s also a good sign that the manager values staff input.

5. Recognition: Why have you stayed with this organization and what makes it a great place to work? 

Meaningful recognition is a huge part of staff retention. Feeling like a valued member of the team makes a big difference in overall morale when you're working in a stressful environment, like healthcare. Each manager will have their own approach to this, but ideally it will include a variety of methods since each person can feel valued in different ways (just like the love languages). Not only is each person unique in how they feel appreciation, but each generation is different in what they value. A good manager will take time to figure out their staff needs and find ways to meet them the best they can.

Other areas to explore include the unit's current morale, if they utilize the DAISY program or another nursing recognition program, and if there are opportunities for further education and advancement. Are nurses encouraged to pursue certification and is it rewarded by the organization? Are there opportunities for peers to recognize each other or for patients to recognize staff? As great a recognition from a manager can be, it's often more meaningful when it comes from a patient/patient's family member or a peer. 

6. Leadership: Does senior leadership have a presence with staff and/or patients? Do nurses know who the CNO is? 

A great leader can make quite a difference when it comes to burnout and retention. You can ask questions about leadership rounding, management or supervisor presence at the bedside, or how they, as a leader, support a healthy work environment. Just cut right to the heart of it.

Ultimately, you want to find a workplace that is going to be good for your mental health! Do you think these questions could help you weed out a potential toxic work environment? I'll be putting them to the test and I'll keep you posted! If I left out any questions or if there are any you'd recommend asking, please leave them in the comments below. 

Good luck in your future interviews!

Anna Rodriguez1 Comment