How much initiative is too much initiative in healthcare?

Last Updated: 05 October 2022

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Proactivity can be a huge strength in any workplace. When a team member feels confident enough to undertake tasks before being asked, it shows that the team (and the team’s management) have built a bond based upon trust.

However, there are some downsides to the use of initiative in an industry such as healthcare. Firstly, proactivity and initiative may be well-meant but ill-founded, meaning the person just isn’t skilled enough to be completing tasks preemptively or on their own.

Additionally, initiative can be read as insubordination if a manager or team leader is not used to colleagues taking proactive steps.

What is initaitive in healthcare?

Initiative is ‘the ability to assess and initiate things independently', according to Oxford Languages.

Initiative can take many forms, including:

  1. Self-management.

  2. Completing tasks proactively.

  3. Teaching colleagues skills they will probably need working in their current role.

  4. Upskilling based on the skills that your colleagues have, so you can fill the team’s competency gaps.

This being said, there are upsides and downsides to initiative and taking proactive action. While initiative can be helpful, it can also be unintentionally destructive. Though initiative may help you, it could confuse or disorient someone else. We regard these two sides as ‘positive initiative’ and ‘negative initiative’.

What are the differences between positive and negative initiative?

Examples of positive initiative

Aligning yourself with organisational goals and values: Especially early in your role with an organisation, it’s important to research, memorise and enact the values and goals of the organisation you’re working for. To go out of your way to do this sends two messages to your team and your manager: first, that you’re organised and reliable; second, that you can manage yourself effectively.

Taking on advocacy and board roles: If you have a wealth of experience in the healthcare sector, getting your voice and opinions out there for the sake of advocacy or management is a great step for yourself and your career. Nurses, midwives and other professionals are sorely underrepresented when it comes to hospital and health service boards. Put yourself forward and represent your community.

Take your professional development seriously: Don’t aim to tick boxes: find joy and pride in completing education related to your practice.

Examples of negative initiative

Trying to solve problems that aren’t yours: Unfortunately, sometimes just wanting to solve a problem isn’t enough. If it isn't your battle, you need to be comfortable and self-aware enough to step away.

Changing routines that other people rely upon for their own schedules: While changing something may help you, if it puts other people in a harder position, it’s not a great initiative for your team. For example, logging incident reports a certain way might be incredibly frustrating for you for a particular reason. You start to log them a different way to save time and, in your own reports, increase your accuracy. This change, however, confuses your colleagues and causes an increase in errors down the line. This would be an example of well-meaning but negative initiative.

Completely independent self-management: While it’s great to be in control of yourself and your work, your team leader needs to be kept up to date: this is for the sake of both monitoring productivity and accountability. Depending on your relationship with your team leader, you might be required to check in once or twice a day or maybe just once a week.

What’s the best way to approach the use of initiative in healthcare?

Films and TV shows are full of rookies taking initiative and saving the day. Unfortunately, in real life it’s largely the purpose of younger and less experienced staff members is to listen, learn and grow.

So, the first thing you should do as a healthcare professional is assess your experience regarding the issue or task at hand. Have you done it many times before to a high level? Is it something you’ve done alone before? Does this task usually fall to you, regarding the distribution of work amongst your team?

If you deem yourself experienced enough to proactively complete a task, you can start assessing whether now is the best time to be doing it. Is there anything else you can do to help your colleagues who may have fallen behind in their usual schedule? It’s a good idea to check in with your colleagues before jumping forward in your own schedule.

The last thing to consider is whether this could be a learning opportunity for a junior member of your team. Assuming you’re completing this task proactively because you have spare time available, perhaps you could use this spare time to show another colleague how to complete this task. This is great for your colleague, but also great for you: you’re showing management (and the rest of the team) that you’re a natural leader and that you’ve mastered a certain area of your practice!

What else?

To learn more about how you can become more confident and effective at work, have a look at the following articles:

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