Coping with Staff Resentment

Full time permanent staff nurses are frequently overwhelmed by the demands placed upon them by the increasing acuity of their patients, the escalating paperwork burden, and chronic understaffing. Current estimates are that over 10 percent of nursing positions nationwide are unfilled. To help alleviate the severe staffing shortage, many hospitals now employ temporary travelers, both nurses and other critically needed allied health professionals. When you, a traveler arrive at your assignment, you will be greeted with relief and gratitude by the beleagered staff, right? Not always. 

Generally, permanent staff view our presence with gratitude. They are glad to get some much needed help. But there are valid reasons as well as some myths circulating that can create resentment from full time staffers.

Chief among these is that travelers are paid more than regular staff. It is human nature to resent a system which allows someone with less seniority to receive a higher wage than you for the same work, and travelers are in this role. Since hiring travelers is expensive, this practice is legitimately believed to be diverting funds that could be spent to hire needed full time staff or give the existing staff a pay raise. Keeping the following facts in mind will help you cope with any resentment displayed by staff.

When you consider the value of the usually superior benefits that full time staff nurses enjoy, including paid vacation, holidays, health insurance, retirement accounts, and PTO, real compensation is often higher for staff than travelers. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to focus on a single factor such as hourly pay, or "free" housing.

What is true is that because of the additional agency overhead, hiring travelers is always a more expensive proposition than hiring permanent staff. This can actually have a positive effect on hospital administration retention, recruiting and pay policies. Recent large increases in nurse wages in California are due in no small part to hospital administrators desperately trying to avoid paying a premium price for travelers.  Rather than siphoning money away from staff’s wages, we tend to elevate their wages.

This effect of elevating wages is magnified when you consider the multi-state practice of most travelers. Supply and demand predicts that travelers will go where needs are the greatest and the pay is the highest. The result is that hospitals in low paying areas of the country must match higher paying areas to compete effectively for travelers. This tends to raise staff pay levels across the board nationwide.

Can travelers even hold a regular job? That is often the lens through which staff see us, even before working with us.  We are drawn to traveling for many reasons, but poor professional skills is not one of them. We are viewed critically by management and staff closely, as befits our commodity and cost status in their eyes. As a result, our performance must be the equal to the best permanent staff as we have no "part of the family" get out of jail free card.

On average, travelers develop superior clinical skills, have diverse cultural experience, improve working conditions by sharing efficient practices learned from many facilities,  and require far less orientation than newly hired regular staff: "hit the ground running."

Touting these attributes aloud certainly won’t win the hearts and minds of your colleagues, but by quietly and generously using these talents to relieve some of the burden from permanent staff, you may win them over by your actions. Travelers give staff the time to do what they do best – provide quality healthcare.  After you’ve worked with the staff for awhile, any tensions will inevitably fade.

Travel nursing is a boon to all nurses, including those who choose to work as full time staff.  The advent of the travel nursing industry has given nurses another attractive career option.  Hospital administrators are acutely aware that they must compete.  They are finally facing the reality that they must improve wages and working conditions for their full time staff if they hope to retain them.

Healthcare travelers are an indispensable component of the nation’s safety net.  Not only do we fill seasonal and regional shortages, but we also fill a vital national security role. Our ability to react quickly to healthcare crises was amply demonstrated following the Katrina disaster. If current trends prevail, shortages in the U.S. will grow dramatically over the next decade. Tis is particularly true of nurses. The increased reliance upon healthcare travelers is inevitable. Travelers and permanent staff must do more than merely coexist. We must forge strong bonds and encourage mutual trust recognizing that, although our paths may differ, our goals are the same.