Retention Strategies for Nursing

Retaining nurses is a challenge for hospitals and other health care employers.
Retaining nurses is a challenge for hospitals and other health care employers. (Image: Hospital sign image by Megan van Dyck from

The demand for nurses is growing each day. Hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities that rely on highly skilled nurses are seeing the challenges in employee retention. Population changes, new developments in medical treatment and a greater number of people seeking health care contribute to the demand for nurses.

Nursing Careers

The health care field is one of the fastest-growing employment areas. In a November 2009 news release, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that jobs for registered nurses will grow by 22 percent between 2008 and 2018. Despite an overall decline in the economy, health care needs continue to expand. According to the American Nurses Association, registered nurses comprise the largest segment of health care occupations.

New Incentives

Nursing is a career path traditionally sought by women. However, men are entering this field in significant numbers. Some employment experts claim this stiffens the competition and potentially impacts compensation. The increasing number of workers from Generation X and Generation Y also brings a new face to the field of nursing. Nursing has become a highly compensated field; BLS data indicates the average annual salary for nurses was $66,530 in 2008. The nursing field is changing, thus incentives for retaining nurses also are changing to meet the needs of a diverse work force.

Reducing Turnover

Employee retention is dependent on reducing turnover. One of the most common complaints among nurses pertains to working conditions such as nurse-patient ratios. This is a contentious topic among labor organizations, hospitals and nursing associations. Other reasons nurses give for leaving their jobs include wages, working hours, training and employee development, according to the ANA. Retention strategies developed by human resources leaders can range from those based solely on monetary incentives to ones that are a combination of tangible and intangible rewards.

Compensation Based Incentives

Employers often use wage increases as the sole method to improve employee retention. This is not always the best way to address turnover since there are other motivators to consider. However, conducting an internal wage analysis for nurses and comparing the data for nurses in nearby areas is a good start. If wages are substantially lower, an overall wage increase may be effective in reducing turnover. A review of the total compensation and benefits package may also be useful in determining whether an employer is competitive in attracting and retaining talent. Employees appreciate comprehensive benefit packages that include medical insurance coverage and time off.

Performance Based Incentives

Rewards for employee performance can be tangible, intangible or a combination of the two. Tangible rewards in the form of higher increases for outstanding performance are one way to improve employee retention. Employees will then look forward to regular performance evaluations and strive for better scores in annual reviews. Intangible rewards for excellent performance can be as simple as a commendation to recognize a nurse’s commitment to providing excellent patient care. Another performance-based incentive is to reward nurses for input obtained from their peers. Employee feedback is often the most objective and appreciated type of feedback, and many employers reward employees for peer-to-peer evaluations.

Other Incentives

Employer-paid training and development opportunities are relatively intangible rewards used to incentivize employees. These types of incentives can be especially effective in retaining nurses who want to further their careers in the field. Typical incentives such as employee-appreciation events, reserving parking spaces and transportation subsidies, and public recognition of achievement are also tested and proven methods for retaining talent in the nursing field.

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