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Want Nurse Retention? Listen Up!

Posted by Kristin Baird on February 2nd, 2009 • 1 Comment »


You can’t pick up a health care trade journal without reading something about the nurse shortage. Many Health care organizations have responded by scrambling to attract new nurses through advertising campaigns and a variety of attractive perks. These methods may help to get the nurses in the door, but what is the nurse experience once they arrive? What is the culture? What strategies do health care organizations have in place to get and keep the nurses engaged?

My company has done countless culture assessments as well as nursing retention focus groups over the years and I am continually amazed at how few organizations have a good grasp of the fundamentals of employee engagement. Nurses, the precious commodity that they are, must feel engaged in order to want to stay. But what causes them to engage?

There are many factors tied to both attraction and engagement Some vary according to length of time in the profession, but others are important no matter how long they have been in nursing. In order to increase engagement and ultimately retention, the first strategy is to listen. Not just do a satisfaction survey, but engage them in a meaningful conversation that will get at the core attitudes and opinions of the nursing staff as a whole and individuals specifically. Find out what attracted them to the position and what makes them want to stay. Ask what’s most important to them and take the time to put it into place.

In our focus groups, there has been a consistent theme across all groups and in all organizations and that is the need to feel heard and valued. I find it sad that after almost every focus group, I have nurses thank me for listening to them. It isn’t unusual for nurses to tell me that the focus group was the first time anyone has asked for their insights and feedback. In fact, I recently completed a series of four focus groups for one organization and every group talked about how grateful they were for the chance to share their thoughts. I sometimes wonder if health care leaders hesitate to delve deeper for fear of what they might hear. That knowing about issues and problems will make them accountable for fixing them. Equally as dangerous is assuming that you know what your staff are thinking. I had one HR leader tell me, "e;We already know that it all comes down to money."e; He was wrong. When interviewing the nurses at his organization, I found that their biggest cause for dissatisfaction wasn’t money but was not feeling appreciated, heard or understood.

I have found that early-career nurses want more mentoring and support. Mid-career nurses are seeking greater challenges whether in leadership development, education and career ladders while advanced career nurses want to be valued for their vast experience and contributions.

As we continue to grapple with the realities of a nurse shortage; doesn’t it make sense to do whatever we can to keep good nurses? Take time to listen. What you hear may just surprise you.

Baird Consulting

One Response to “Want Nurse Retention? Listen Up!”

  1. Cynthia Hanna says:

    Hello Kristin,

    I really enjoyed hearing you speak at the TBI conference a couple of weeks ago. Kathy A. forwarded your Blog to me today and It is fantastic!
    .
    Having been a nurse for > 20 years I can personall y speak to “the nursing shortage”. Ever since I have been a nurse there has been a shortage….the problem is that there are enough nurses out there…they just have gotten fed up working in hospitals. Also, the hospitals advertise positions for nurses..but they are positions they have no intention of hiring for due to economics. In many hospitals they choose to have the staff nurses work short. I have dealt with this problem first hand as an administrator in the hospital enviroment. The hospitals will also hire contract nurses to avoid having to pay benifits. These contract nurses have no loyaltly to the facility.. they make doulble what a staff nurse makes, can choose their own hours and the list goes on..This problem hampers continuity of care, and the staff nurses are unhappy which ultimatly gets communicated one way or another to the patients.


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