Want to Keep Your Nurses Happy? Here’s How

Key takeaways:

  • A recent study found that the national average turnover rate for bedside nurses was 16.8% in 2017.
  • The determinants of job satisfaction change throughout a nurse’s career.
  • Different approaches to career progression based on tenure vs. accomplishments can help keep nurses at the bedside1.

The Desperate Case for Nurse Retention Efforts

For at least the past decade, nursing shortages and the sky-high turnover rates of bedside nurses have posed significant problems to nurse leaders. It is no secret that nurse attrition can impact everything from quality of care and team morale to the department’s net operating budget, seeing as staff nurses are generally the single largest line item on the budget. To better understand exactly how much attrition rates can affect hospital performance, here are some recent statistics on the current state of nurse staffing from a recent Health Leaders report:

  • According to a recent 10-year study by RN works, the study found that “17% of newly licensed RNs leave their first nursing job within the first year, 33% leave within two years, and 60% leave within eight years”.
  • NSI reported that the national turnover rate for bedside RN’s was 16.8% in 2017.
  • Press Ganey’s 2017 survey of 250,000 RN’s found that almost 21% of nurses planned to leave their positions within a year (including those retiring).
    • When asked about their 3-year plan, 26% said they planned to pursue other options ranging from position changes to retirement.
  • The average cost of turnover for a bedside nurse is estimated between $38,000-$61,000.
  • Per hospital, it is estimated that these costs range between $4.4 -$7 million annually1.

With these staggering turnover rates, how can leaders attract new talent?

Reputation matters. As the nursing industry as a whole is under mounting pressure to focus on productivity and financial outcomes, it is crucial for nursing leaders to maintain a strong connection to their purpose as nurses. Not only does this benefit the organization by promoting a commitment to excellence, but it is also a successful strategy for nurse leaders to attract and retain quality talent who shares their vision.

  1. Reclaim nurses as the “heart and soul” of healthcare. As hospitals face continuous pressure to increase patient throughput, nurses are also finding themselves under more pressure to treat more patients in a short amount of time. The caveat is that increased throughput may detract from a nurse’s ability to provide quality bedside care depending on the work environment. While nurses may face increased workloads caused by a variety of factors ranging from staffing shortages to organizational pressures to increased patient volumes, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that those who go into nursing do so because of a desire to care for and connect with others, rather than just complete tasks and move on to the next.
  2. How health systems can use ‘Commitment to Care’ to retain high quality nurses. In previous blogs, we have addressed professional burnout and retention strategies at length.  And while these things can play a significant role in nurse satisfaction, they fall short of addressing the hospital environment as whole. Of course, there will always be variation between how one manager or director runs a department compared to another. However, when attracting and retaining talent, nurses thrive in hospital systems that place a strong emphasis on maintaining a culture of care which then permeates into the work environment at every level. By valuing people over profit, leaders are able to create a culture of safety that promotes taking adequate break times, voicing unpopular opinions in order to advocate for patients when necessary, and build strong connections with colleagues that promote trust and respect amongst the team.
  3. Be your nurses’ biggest advocate. Unlike most other professions, having “a bad day” at work for a nurse can mean accompanying someone in their last moments or caring for someone at their most vulnerable. And while this is the sometimes unfortunate nature of healthcare, prolonged exposure to stressful and traumatic cases can sometimes lead to compassion fatigue. Coined as the ‘loss of the ability to nurture,’ it is one of the negative consequences nurses must face as not only first-responders but also ‘sustained-responders’ who provide ongoing support throughout the course of care. As nurse leaders, it is crucial to provide nurses with appropriate resources to help minimize the negative consequences of compassion fatigue. Support strategies ranging from support groups to on-site counseling to art therapy are all effective approaches to help support and protect nurses from compassion fatigue2.

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For additional blogs you might be interested in:

Sources: Thew, J. (March 27th, 2019) Want To Keep Nurses At The Bedside? Here’s How

2Horton-Deutsh, S. (May 2nd, 2018) 2018 Best And Worst States For Nurses 


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