Shift-to-Shift Animosity


Published: 28 February 2016

One of the most annoying things to nurses is to come on shift and find that the shift before has left work undone.

With all of the work asked of nurses, it galls some people to find that they have to do yet more work on top of their regular duties. Obviously, this can lead to animosity between the shifts.

This can break down the sense of teamwork on the unit and become a problem when animosity gets to a high level.

What Can You Do About It?

What can a nursing unit do about shift to shift animosity?

With the crushing amount of work that has to be done, it can feel like the added weight is the last straw. Some nurses harbour this animosity and will become enraged, no matter how hard the previous nurse worked.

It is important to understand the differences between the shifts to get a good idea of why they are leaving work.

Another possibility is to accept some shift to shift responsibility. Nursing is a 24-hour job, and no one can get everything done.

Finally, management needs to find a way to have these shifts come together to work as a cohesive unit.

Shift Differences

One problem with shift to shift animosity is that it’s difficult for those on the new shift to be aware of the challenges of the previous shift.

For instance, the morning shift may resent having things passed off to them by the night shift due to the erroneous belief that nothing happens on night duty. Combatting this may be as simple as having nurses work different shifts to gain a different perspective.

Another way to combat this is simply to communicate what the differences are. For instance, not many nurses know that night shift nurses are given clerical work to finish in addition to their care duties.

Nurses on the afternoon shift need to be told of the long line of doctors and colleagues that come in to see the patients during the first part of the day.

No one is superhuman, and just as a morning shift nurse has to pass on work, sometimes the afternoon shift nurse has to pass on work, too.

Leaving Work for other Shifts

Despite understanding what other shifts are like, nurses have to accept that some work will be left from the last shift. In some cases, a nurse who tries to not leave things for the next shift will stay long after their shift is finished, causing both stress and unneeded overtime. This is all in an attempt to do something that is almost completely impossible: to finish everything in the allotted time.

Every nurse has done it at some point to avoid leaving more work. Some do it to keep the following nurse from getting angry, but many nurses do it because they know how much that nurse has to do for her own duties.

In short, the need to leave work for following shifts has to be accepted by both the outgoing and incoming nurses. The problem with this understanding tends to arise when the oncoming nurse feels as if they are being used. Something that was legitimately leftover is more likely to be accepted than something that should be done, no matter what. Laziness is often suspected by other shifts, and this can lead to the animosity.

Management should try to keep an eye on who is leaving more work for the next shift than necessary. However, it may be easier to professionally confront the nurse about their performance, to find out why they are not completing their work. If that fails to solve the problem, then involving management, unfortunately, may be necessary.

Fixing the Shift Animosity

Shift to shift animosity exists everywhere, even in non-nursing venues. In factories, one shift often feels that the other shifts get off too easily and that they have the hardest jobs. It may not be possible, therefore, to completely eradicate it. Everyone thinks they have it the hardest, and they resent anyone who potentially has it easier.

The problem with nursing is that every shift is difficult. No one is really resting on their laurels despite which shift they work. Yet the perception will still exist. This type of shift resentment may not be fixable. It is almost human nature to think someone else has it easier than you.

What can be fixed is the leaving of work for the next shift. All nurses need to have an understanding that this is not only possible but likely that they will have to clean up behind the nurse they followed.

In turn, the nurse that follows them will have to clean up behind them as well. The nursing day is one large cycle and no one nurse’s work belongs to them. If tasks need to be completed, then the next nurse becomes responsible. The patient belongs to all two or three nurses on rotation, and helping a nurse who has been drowning their whole shift should be second nature. Only when it is abused should action be taken, and even then, it is better to give a nurse the benefit of the doubt.