Royal College of Nursing updates healthy workplace resource and calls for focus on staff breaks

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has updated its Healthy Workplace Toolkit, while also calling for a greater emphasis on the importance of breaks – as well as healthier breaks – for nursing staff.

RCN’s Rest, Rehydrate and Refuel initiative highlights how the workforce needs to be able to take at-work breaks, as well as have access to water and healthy food during shifts.

The toolkit, which was developed with RCN members, provides organisations and workplaces with a framework for improving working environments – and aims to highlight how better working conditions can positively impact staff health and wellbeing.

Ali Upton, Chair of the RCN UK Safety Representatives Committee, said: “These resources have led to a number of organisations setting up hydration stations and investing in the basic needs of their nursing staff, but there is more to do. 

“It is vital that organisations and managers demonstrate compassionate leadership to ensure that staff have frequent hydration and nutrition breaks.” 

The updated resource, published on 21 June 2021, can be used by any organisation with nursing staff, such as care homes and NHS trusts. It also includes pandemic-specific advice, as well as posters for display in the workplace.

The 25-page guide focuses on four ‘healthy workplace domains’: work-life balance; equality and inclusion; workplace health, safety and wellbeing; learning and development.

It also makes its case by focusing on five key factors that make the conditions for nursing staff important, including legal requirements, the moral case, workforce retention, costs associated with absence and litigation, and the quality and safety of patient care.

Defining what constitutes a ‘healthy workplace’, the RCN says it is “one which offers fair pay” and has practices and procedures that are inclusive, promote a good work-life balance, protect and promote physical and psychological health, provide jobs that give employees autonomy and control, and provide equitable access to training, learning and development.

The document highlights that a previous report it funded and published last year had found nursing workforce issues such as lack of flexible working, long shifts and work pressures (Kinman et al, 2020).

It also cites results from the RCN’s 2019 Employment Survey, which found that 77% of nursing staff asked worked more than their contracted hours at least once a week and 47% felt unable to balance their home and work lives.

As for how the toolkit can be used, the RCN resource says, “the toolkit provides organisations with a means of carrying out a health check at both an organisation and/or departmental/team level”, and recommends working in partnership with staff and RCN representatives throughout the health check process, as well as pledging to make improvements through the action plan provided.

In addition to specific pointers for nurse managers, directors and HR staff, the document also provides guidance on how to implement change at both macro and micro levels, with signposting for further information and resources.

To view the toolkit in full, visit