How can I retain my older, more experienced nurses?

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Retention efforts must focus on the needs of each generation. To maintain the competitive edge, and to avoid being blindsided by waves of retirement as the Silents and Baby Boomers age, institutions must develop retention programs now that meet the needs of workers over age 60. More effort should be made in meeting their needs so as to allow them to work as long as they would like.

Helping nurses remain in the workforce for as long as possible will involve meeting many of their physical needs, while also concentrating on other issues that are important to them, such as preparing for retirement.

Environmental concerns: Silent and Baby Boomer generations want to be useful and productive, but need fewer physical demands and less stress. Offering flexible schedules may be the most crucial retention tool. Consider their needs when new units are designed and organized. Consider factors as diverse as the:

  • Distance required to walk between assigned patients
  • Distance to commonly needed supplies
  • Chairs placed on units-how easy it is to sit in them and get up from them
  • Font size and style on computer screens and in written material

There is a great deal of technology available to make the physical aspects of nursing easier, such as patient-lifting equipment. Investing in such technology can encourage nurses to remain in the workforce longer, which is vital, as the nursing shortage shows no signs of abating.

Consider developing a comprehensive ergonomics program. As patients become heavier and the workforce older, the potential for injury increases. Providing ergonomic equipment in the workplace will not only help older nurses stay in the workplace, it will also benefit younger nurses, as any age nurse is likely to be injured while lifting. In addition, ergonomic training and ergonomic equipment purchase can be used as a common goal for all generations in the unit and can be something they can focus on together.

Financial concerns: Consider introducing phased-retirement programs that allow older employees to work fewer hours and receive some portion of their retirement money, without penalties.

Above all, be sure to recognize the valuable contribution made by older nurses, and beware of marginalizing them because they are only a few years away from permanent retirement. Make an effort to celebrate their accomplishments, recognize their achievements, and reward their expertise. Encourage all generations to celebrate the important role played by older nurses.

-- Judith "Ski" Lower, RN, MSN, CCRN, CNRN
(August 2011)