Mouthing off the right way: How to keep your nurses happy

CLICK to Email
CLICK for Print Version

Keeping a grip on nurses once they enter a facility is an ongoing battle for many nurse managers; but it doesn't have to be so hard, according to nursing experts Shelley Cohen and Lydia Ostermeier. They argue it is the subtle--and often costless--actions that can have an effect on the satisfaction of staff members, leading to long-term retention benefits.

"You don't have to do things that are absolutely huge, whether it's in money, or in concept," said Shelley Cohen, RN, BSN, CEN, president of Health Resources Unlimited in Hohenwald, TN. "You just have to start, and you need to start with things that are focused on the needs of your particular staff."

Cohen said recognition is costless and can do wonders as a retention tool. Nurses want to feel vital to their organizations and small gestures can help them feel appreciated.

"We can put a post-it note on the nurse's locker with an individually wrapped lifesaver that says, 'You were a lifesaver staying over for 30 minutes on the nightshift, thank you so much. I knew I made the right decision to hire you,'" said Cohen.

Bragging can also boost staff morale.

"We do not do enough as organizations to brag about all the accomplishments that our nursing staff are able to complete, whether it's meeting patient safety goals or OR nurses that just received their OR certification," said Cohen.

Managers can give staff exposure by contacting local community newspapers when a staff member has some form of accomplishment, and should even consider profiling those nurses in company newsletters, posters, and brochures.

A seasoned nurse might also double as an influential speaker for students on the cusp of deciding on a career path. Ask a nurse who is a great asset to your organization if he or she is interested in speaking about the nursing industry at a local high school.

"Relationships are key to retention," said Lydia Ostermeier, MSN, RN, CHCR, director of nurse recruitment, retention, workforce development, resource allocation, and patient visitor representatives at Clarian Health in Indianapolis, IN. Many employees choose to walk away from a job because of a lack of communication and unsatisfactory relationships. Ostermeier said managers can avoid this by keeping in contact through electronic newsletters, emails, posters, and staff meetings.

Keep on target with the individual needs and interests of your staff by taking a few minutes to create a favorite list. The list can be composed of your staff members' favorite colors, meals, and music, and can be referred back to when handing out rewards.

"You don't want to leave a Three Musketeers bar on the desk of a diabetic nurse," said Cohen."

Also, put an emphasis on making staff feel respected and valuable to your organization. Ask questions about their life outside of the workplace, whether it is how their child is adjusting to a new school system or how their family is doing. And most importantly--listen to their responses.

Interested in hearing more great retention advice? You can purchase a copy of the audioconference, Retention in Nursing: Top Solutions to Keep Nurses from Hire to Retire at