How to stop unhappy nurses from leaving

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Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, January 29, 2013

The results of a survey of registered nurses present something of a paradox for nurse leaders. The survey of nearly 3,000 RNs showed that nurses are happier than ever with their career choices. Yet about 30% of them aren't happy with their current jobs.

Marcia Faller, PhD, RN, chief nursing officer at AMN Healthcare, which conducted the survey, says it's a finding that should make nurse leaders stop and listen. The fact that many nurses want to find a new job is a clear sign that a lack of a nursing shortage is no excuse for leaders to start slacking off on their recruitment and retention.

"Nurse leaders really need to pay attention," she says. "You really do need to continue on those efforts."

How can nurses be both satisfied with their careers but unhappy with their jobs? Faller has a theory. She believes that nursing's importance has been thrust into the limelight over the past few years, thanks in part to the findings of the IOM's landmark Future of Nursing report, for example.

Yet in many instances, that societal shift hasn't trickled down to nurses' day-to-day working lives. "I'm not sure that the workplace changes have taken place as fast," Faller says. "People don't leave their jobs; they leave their manager and their leaders."

The survey also reveals that nurses are eager to continue their nursing education in the near term (over the next one-to-three years). It found that 40% of nurses wanted to pursue an advanced degree.

Broken down by age, the numbers were impressive. Almost 70% of 19- to 39-year-old respondents planned to pursue more advanced degrees, with 37% of this age group saying that they planned to purse a master's degree in nursing.

In addition, the survey found that 28% of respondents are considering getting specialty certification in the next one-to-three years; 35% say they're already certified through their professional organization.

In other words, nurses are motivated; they yearn to learn. Harvard Business School professor and author Clayton Christensen describes motivation like this:"[it] means that you've got an engine inside of you that drives you to keep working in order to feel successful and to help the organization be successful. It causes you to keep at it through thick and thin. Motivators are things like, 'I have the opportunity to achieve important things,''I learn ways to be better,' and 'I'm an important part of a team.' If you have those kinds of experiences every day, you're motivated, and you'll be satisfied."

The findings of the AMN Healthcare survey are intriguing all by themselves, but smart nurse leaders can also use them to their advantage by harnessing their employees' career enthusiasm while also improving recruitment and retention.

If most nurses want to advance their educations but are unhappy at work, it makes sense for nurse leaders to do everything in their power to help their current employees achieve their educational goals.

That might mean implementing onsite educational courses and programs; working with nurses on flexible scheduling options so they can better balance work and school; teaching nurses about avenues to certification; and offering tuition reimbursement.

By helping nurses advance their educations, hospitals will likely make nurses feel more valued and supported at work. And if nurses have a choice between working at a hospital that incentivizes educational advancement or one that doesn't, which one do you think they'd choose?

Surveys like these can sometimes feel like simply a snapshot of what nurses are thinking at a given time. It might be hard to glean any real takeaways from pages filled with numbers and percentages.

But nurse leaders who are willing to dig deeper, connect the dots, and make changes will be the ones whose nurses are happy, productive, and who stick around for a while.

Source: HealthLeaders Media