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High nurse retention makes doctors want to stay in their jobs too

Extent of nurse engagement and motivation affects not only nurses’ retention levels, but those of wider groups because they rely on highly effective nurses
Clinical staff work happily together as study finds doctor retention better when nursing teams are stable

Extent of nurse engagement and motivation affects not only nurses’ retention levels, but those of wider groups because they rely on highly effective nurses

Keeping nursing staff happy in their jobs not only boosts nurse retention but benefits the whole NHS workforce, a study suggests.

University of Surrey researchers found that the extent to which nurses felt motivated and valued was linked to nurse retention, but also that a stable nurse workforce even improves retention of senior doctors. This was because they rely so heavily on high-performing nursing staff.

The researchers say their findings show improving nurse engagement and retention should be a top priority when it comes to addressing NHS staff shortages.

Extent of nurse engagement and motivation affects not only nurses’ retention levels, but those of wider groups because they rely on highly effective nurses

Clinical staff work happily together
Picture: iStock

Keeping nursing staff happy in their jobs not only boosts nurse retention but benefits the whole NHS workforce, a study suggests.

University of Surrey researchers found that the extent to which nurses felt motivated and valued was linked to nurse retention, but also that a stable nurse workforce even improves retention of senior doctors. This was because they rely so heavily on high-performing nursing staff.

The researchers say their findings show improving nurse engagement and retention should be a top priority when it comes to addressing NHS staff shortages.

‘Our findings show that an increase in engagement not only positively impacts nurses’ retention but it also has an indirect but positive effect on the retention of doctors and other staff,’ said principal investigator Dr Giuseppe Moscelli, reader in economics at the University of Surrey.

Why measuring nurses’ engagement matters

Staff engagement, as measured by the NHS Staff Survey, is based on several factors including how motivated staff feel, their ability to make improvements and show initiative, and whether they would recommend their organisation to others.

The latest available NHS Staff Survey results, for 2020, show the national average engagement score for registered nurses and midwives was 7.2 out of 10.

‘When nurses feel valued and listened to, they stay’

Melisa Sayli, study co-author

The researchers looked at 11 years of data from NHS acute and mental health trusts in England, including staff survey results and staffing records. They found a 10% increase in nurses’ engagement accounted for a 1% increase in nursing staff retention and an 8% reduction in nurses leaving the NHS for good.

A 10% improvement in nurse retention contributed to a 1.6% increase in the proportion of senior doctors deciding to stay with an employer. However, the reverse was not the case, which suggests nurses are less dependent on senior medical colleagues.

Measures of nurse engagement

More than 150,000 registered nurses and midwives took part in the 2020 NHS Staff Survey:

  • 60% said they often or always looked forward to going to work
  • 76.1% said they were often or always enthusiastic about their job
  • 58.2% said they were able to make improvements in their area of work
  • 67.1% said they would recommend their organisation as a place to work

Source: NHS Staff Survey 2020

Failure to retain nurses comes at a cost

While the changes in retention rates may seem small, they are significant given the cost and amount of time taken to train nurses and doctors, explained study co-author and postdoctoral research fellow Dr Melisa Sayli.

‘Our study confirms the importance engagement plays in retaining nurses because, unlike doctors, they don’t have a clear career pathway to structured development opportunities after they have qualified,’ she said.

‘Simply put, when nurses feel valued and listened to, they stay.’


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