At a time in history when nursing shortages and nurse attrition can be devastating, healthcare organizations must find ways to attract and retain the best nurse candidates.

We all know that high-quality nursing care and engaged nurse employees are crucial for patient satisfaction. With reimbursement often tied to patient satisfaction, the need to retain an excellent nursing workforce cannot be overstated.

Disengaging From Nurse Disengagement

According to the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, it costs an organization $22,000 in loss productivity for every disengaged nurse employee.

According to the same source, it is estimated that 15 out of every 100 nurses is disengaged at work and lacking overall job satisfaction. These are dire numbers, especially in a competitive healthcare marketplace where unmitigated financial losses can be ruinous in the presence of relatively tight profit margins.

In order to grow great nurse employees, healthcare organizations and facilities that employ nurses must keep those nurses engaged, happy and fulfilled. While Nurses Week celebrations are a nice gesture, a yearly party and monogrammed coffee mugs are a pale substitute for a substantive, ongoing strategy for nurse retention and engagement.

Nurses’ disengagement must be cut off at the pass through thoughtful, forward-thinking leadership that isn’t pennywise and pound-foolish.

Saving money by forcing each nurse to take on an extra patient or two per shift can lead to burnout, unhappiness, lost productivity, decreased patient satisfaction, suboptimal patient outcomes, and eventual nurse attrition and costly employee turnover. Pound foolish, indeed.

Wanted: Meaningful Nurse Retention Strategies

Meaningful nurse retention strategies are not rocket science, yet many organizations miss the boat. Positive steps can be taken to retain good nurses, as long as there is organizational will to do so.

Needs assessment: One nurse retention strategy involves intermittent needs assessments in order to receive nurses’ feedback regarding what they need to thrive and succeed.

This cannot be a one-time survey — nurses should be assessed regularly for changes in the workplace, the organizational culture, clinical issues, etc. If there is a bully on a unit, a well-done assessment may reveal that bully’s presence and impact on morale. Regular global assessments are key.

True nurse care: Nurses work hard and serve as the lifeblood of any healthcare institution, yet a common complaint from nurses is that they have no time to care for themselves. If nurses are overworked, have too many patients, and never have meal breaks or time to use the toilet, something has to change.

A facility that truly cares about its nurses will require and enforce the taking of breaks, and it will provide an amenable, workable structure for doing so. This is essential for the prevention of nurse burnout.

Staffing: Getting a handle on staffing is likely a pain point for most facilities.

While nurse-patient ratios are, as of this writing, only mandated by law in California (national nurse-patient ratio legislation has been submitted to Congress numerous times), individual healthcare facilities can choose to create their own safe staffing ratios by utilizing nurse feedback and clinical outcomes data as a starting point for change.

Involve nurses in decision-making: When decisions come from the top down, many nurses will rightly feel as if the executive suite is ignoring the very people who should be polled regarding such proposed changes.

Nurses at all levels of the organization should be tapped for positions on committees, working groups, and other entities that assesses and respond to various aspects of organizational life. When nurses are involved in systemwide discussions and decision-making, they are empowered to add their worthy opinions to important conversations.

Strong leadership: Strong nurse leaders can and should be groomed for success in their highly impactful roles.

Effective nurse leaders make their nurses feel respected and valued, and they engender trusting relationships with their direct reports. Trust is essential in nurses’ relationships with leaders, and every leader should have the skills and support to skillfully create and nurture that trust.

Other factors: There are many additional factors that contribute to nurse satisfaction, retention, and success. Having readily available equipment in good working order is highly valuable for nurse clinicians since this can decrease frustration and smooth potential wrinkles encountered during busy shifts.

Recognition and praise are other avenues through which a nurse leader can boost the morale of nursing staff, as well as the recognition that staff nurses’ voices matter and will be respectfully listened to. Career development opportunities and fair pay also play a part in nurses feeling recognized and respected for their contributions.

Retention and Success

Any well-meaning healthcare organization employing nurses must consider nurse retention to be a keystone of their business model. With reimbursement being tied to quality of care, patient satisfaction and nurse satisfaction are ignored at a facility’s peril.

Happy, healthy nurses who feel respected and valued at work will no doubt go the extra mile for patients, experience greater feelings of loyalty for their employer, and provide a higher quality of care.

As has been identified, the cost of nurse employee disengagement and attrition are astronomical. Therefore, meaningful nurse retention strategies should be part and parcel of every healthcare organization’s plan for collective success and longevity.