How to Cultivate a Healthy Workforce According to Mr. Rogers

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As leaders, it sometimes feels like we are caught between a rock and a hard place – you can’t please your administrators and your employees never think you do enough for them. To make matters worse, many leaders spend way too much of their time dealing with the disruptive behaviors of their employees! Bullying, incivility, conflict, and now workplace violence can consume the time leaders spend at work, leaving very little time to do “their job”.

It can feel overwhelming. Yet, some leaders find a way to rise above despite their somewhat tumultuous environments.


Just pay attention to what Mr. Rogers does.

I’ve been watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood since I was a little girl. Nothing – I mean nothing got in the way of his show. I lived for Picture Picture and would run to find my brother Jerry if Mr. Rogers got out his miniatures. I was a Mister Rogers super fan. He was my hero.

And as all super fans know, the greatest prize is when you get to actually meet your hero.

When I was working as a unit manager, Mr. Rogers was a patient in the unit next to mine. Because of HIPPA and respect to him and his family, of course I didn’t make any attempt to visit him, but knowing he was so close warmed my heart. One day, my unit secretary paged me to let me know someone was at the desk and wanted to meet me. My first thought was that it was an angry family member (it was a rough unit). To my delight, it was Mr. Rogers who wanted to “meet the leader”.

I’ll never forget the moment he took my hand in his and said, “It’s a wonderful thing that you do here. Thank you for being a leader to these wonderful people [my employees].”

I was almost speechless but gathered my composure in time to thank HIM for being a wonderful leader to millions of children like me.


As leaders, we often don’t think that what we do is so wonderful. Actually, we complain a lot about the constant challenges and never ending list of to dos. Instead, perhaps if we truly saw ourselves the way Mr. Rogers saw me that day, as someone to be thanked, we could become the hero in our own story AND help our employees become the hero in theirs.


Always see the positives even when faced with the negatives.

[Tweet “Always see the positives even when faced with the negatives. #nursing #healthyworkforce”]

Human beings are designed to find the negatives in their environment.


Because any negative situation could be a potential threat to our survival – car crash on the opposite side of the highway (even though you complain about the rubberneckers, YOU turn YOUR neck too!); a nurse yelling at the nursing assistant at the end of the hallway yet YOU feel anxious; a text from your boss saying, “I need to talk with you for a minute”, or, a tragic shooting at a school 1,000 miles away from you.

All of these potentially negative situations cause us anxiety because of our hyper unconscious surveillance of any potential threat – real or perceived.

When faced with the same negative impulses, instead of getting sucked into the vortex of fear and anxiety, Mr. Rogers looks for the positives.  The car crash happened, but nobody got hurt; overhearing the nurse yelling prompts you to stop that nurse and then support the nursing assistant, preventing her from devaluing herself; finding out that your boss actually wanted to share a positive comment one of your patients made in their survey; and of course, when tragedy strikes, Mr. Rogers’ response is…

“Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

When faced with negative situations, real or perceived, catch yourself heading down that path towards fear and anxiety and instead, choose a different path and help your employees to do the same!


When you’re short staffed

Gather your employees together like a huddle at a football game. Use this “opportunity” to cheer them on by encouraging them to work together as a team:

“I know we’re short staffed right now. I also know that we can DO this today. It’s times like this that we show how truly amazing we are!”

“Even though we’re short staffed right now, we’ve got an awesome team of capable caring people here today! We’ve got this!”

When your staff has had a really bad day/night

As we all know, healthcare is unpredictable. Life and death situations happen without warning; your good stable patient is the one who crashes while your complicated patient takes a positive turn and does well. But one thing is guaranteed; you WILL have a day/night from hell – one that leaves you twitching for the next 24 hours!

When this happens, as the leader, it can be hard to console your employees. Many get reactive and threaten to quit, say things like, “this place sucks” or try to blame you (or that they need more staff). One way to stop the reactivity is to first, acknowledge they had a rough day/night; especially if you weren’t there. Say, “I’m so sorry you all had a rough day/night. Are you okay?” And then guide them to identify anything good that happened during that crappy day/night by saying, “I know it was rough but tell me 3 good things that happened despite the chaos.”

By “forcing” them to identify 3 good things, it influences them to look for good things during that shift and realize that even though things were rough, it wasn’t all bad!

When a patient dies

Even nurses who have been practicing for years, who appear to have developed a thick skin, are still impacted negatively when a patient dies. When this happens, rarely do we gather our employees together and encourage them to talk about the patient’s death. However, by gathering together, you can find opportunities to allow your employees to unload negative feelings in a positive way.

Talk about how proud you are of your team and how they comforted the family, or how they protected the patient’s room from any unnecessary disruptions. Encourage your staff to share any positive stories about the patient or their loved ones. The key is to help your employees identify how they made that patient’s transition into the after life as positive as possible.


As nurses, we are in the business of making other people feel better and there he was [Mr. Rogers], weak and sick, but still finding a way to make ME feel better about myself and what I did for others.

Being a healthcare leader isn’t easy but as Mr. Rogers told me that day, it’s a wonderful thing that you do.

Remember that while you may forget some of your employees over time, they will never forget you.

Want additional resources to create a healthy workforce?

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Helping you cultivate a healthy happy workforce,

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9 thoughts on “How to Cultivate a Healthy Workforce According to Mr. Rogers”

  1. Good ideas. If we as nurses have leaders like this…wonderful! I’ve been a psych RN 34 years and the reality is that we have many “leaders” who bully and devalue and don’t really listen to their employees. If a facility allows short staffing ( a danger to patients and co-workers) and it illegally mandates and it allows bullying to take place….what is the course of action? ( I witnessed bullying and was bullied myself at the Pa Dept of Health) I’m a vocal nurse who has been “punished” often for confronting injustice in nursing. Hypnosis is one tool for wellness, one way to reprogram our minds to fight back and to address/ confront bullying in nursing and in all areas. Thanks for what you do Renee.

    1. Renee Thompson

      Thanks for your comments Jan. I’ve seen bullying by the leaders too. And, I’ve seen employees bullying their bosses! These behaviors should never exist in healthcare or anywhere else for that matter. But when healthcare employees sabotage, undermine, yell, criticize, threat, etc. each other, patients ultimately pay the price!!

      Thanks again Jan!!

  2. Lawsuits change the culture, not settlements with NDA’s. One thing is for certain…NDA’s with paltry sums settlements hush money has only given rise to more widespread abuse and another kind of abuse by those with deep pockets against hardworking, honest employees who just want to do a good job, earn a living, support families and do the right thing. Today’s courts are stacked up against the working individual with managerial neglect, allowance of continued bullying, intimidation, ignoring their own policy promises to employees for protection, coverups, and years tied up in delay in the courts with repeated appeals to get the case thrown out of court. Individual employee suits are more difficult when being fired or unemployment make us easier targets for unethical settlements and NDA’s. NEVER AGAIN. Taking your case all the way to court by jury of your peers is the way to make real change. Antibullying laws need to be inacted to protect hardworking employees from unethical employers who cover up and consider us easily replaceable. Court by Jury is the way to exercise your lawful rights, get a court ordered settlement that is enough to cover your real damages and loss and the way to force unethical fat cats in managerial positions to follow their own policies. TIMES UP. NEVER AGAIN.

  3. I am working as nurse in private department. As my experience grow reposibilty is more. i read this article its really good read such fantastic article to motivate myself. thanks

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