Are Your Nurse Scheduling Practices Eroding Retention Numbers?

Nurse scheduling software

Your nurse scheduling practices might be a root cause of your retention woes. 

Scheduling is a challenging responsibility—especially amid the uncertainty that schedulers are dealing with today. Your most valuable and highest-performing nurse professionals might be just one bad schedule away from looking for a new job, leaving you short-handed or forced to fill the shift yourself.

But there is a solution. By finding nurse scheduling software and tools that align with your goals, you can turn a future of potential scheduling nightmares into a strategy that attracts amazing nursing talent that wants to stick around—and keeping you from being short-staffed or filling in the shifts yourself. 

Your Nurse Scheduling and Retention Concerns are Valid

The number one reason nurses cite for their plans to leave their jobs? Burnout and high-stress work environments. To understand how that translates into scheduling disasters, it’s important to look deeper. 

Burnout and nurse schedules

A random sampling of registered nurses in Michigan who were working 12-hour days reported increased stress levels compared to RNs who were working eight-hour shifts. The American Nurses Association (ANA) also cites that nurse fatigue is increased by working long shifts, night shifts, and rotating shifts, as well as by overtime (both mandatory and voluntary). 

The role that shifts and scheduling play in nurse satisfaction and career decisions becomes much more clear when you look at the factors that cause burnout. According to Mayo Clinic these include:

  • A lack of control in their work: For nurses, this translates to little influence on schedule, assignments, and workload.
  • Extremes of activity in their duties: Both monotony and chaotic environments require constant energy to stay focused. When nurse scheduling doesn’t take this in into account, the potential for job fatigue and burnout is elevated. 
  • An imbalance between work and life: If scheduling practices leave nurse professionals in a position where they don’t have the time or energy to spend with family, friends, or on activities they enjoy, they can be at higher risk of burnout. 

This means that suboptimal decisions that schedulers make can quickly trickle down into staff feeling out of control, off balance, and as if they have few options to improve their working conditions. Nurse schedulers have an opportunity here to improve the nurse experience while making it easier on themselves to fill shifts. 

How to Address Your Top Nurse Scheduling Fears

It’s very possible to create an approach to scheduling that not only reduces nurse burnout but also helps you fill shifts quickly and easily, alleviating pressure from management and demonstrating the value of your contribution as a scheduler, not to mention that if you don’t fill these shifts, you may be the one stepping in.

Improving scheduling starts with stepping away from pen, paper, and spreadsheets—shifting to listening to nurse needs and identifying the right kind of technology that will support you in your goals. 

1. I don’t have visibility into what our staff wants

Nurse professionals, thankfully, are relatively open about what they’re looking for and what they hate about their schedules. For example, complaints like these are common:

  • 12-hour shifts (which often turn into 14-hour shifts)
  • Working alternating weekends
  • No guarantees in their schedules and having to float to other units without warning
  • Being put on call and not knowing whether they’ll have to come in to work when they thought they had free time

These might be “part of the job”, but by implementing scheduling practices that leverage float pool and contract nursing options (the kind that allow you to post shifts that are guaranteed to pay out) you can not only alleviate many of these concerns, but also increase the chances that a shift is accepted and decrease the chance that it will be canceled.

2. I don’t know how our approach to shifts are shaping the nurse experience

You can help keep your nurse professionals happy and performing at their best by giving them sufficient time between shifts for rest and recuperation. You can do this by

  • Encouraging a “safety culture” where nurse professionals are free to say “no” to overtime
  • Monitoring nurse schedules for excessive shifts or flips between day and night
  • When rotating shifts, rotate them in a forward pattern
  • Capping overtime and keeping adequate staffing levels that allow your nurses breaks

3. I’m creating schedules in a silo

By involving nurses in scheduling you can help them feel as if they have more control over their work and their lives. In turn, this can increase their job satisfaction levels.

4. Our schedules aren’t flexible enough

Flexibility is a key driver of nurses deciding to leave for other jobs. According to the Journal of Nursing and Healthcare

“There is a significant need for today’s nursing workforce to have more flexible shift work schedules due to demographic and social changes that have increased the demands on their time. For nurses, a flexible shift work schedule will help them to get the balance they need to reduce work-family conflict and for healthcare organizations it would be a successful tool that would improve nurse retention and recruitment.”

Granting your nursing staff flexibility allows them to create work-life balance. By fostering communications between your nursing staff, schedulers, and management, you can begin to define what a “flexible schedule” looks like for them. Make sure to leverage contract and float pool options wherever necessary to achieve flexibility easily and simply for you and your team. 

5. I’m not working with optimal nurse scheduling software

Nurse staffing decisions are complex and involve complex input from players, including management, individual nurse professionals, schedulers, and even patient and community needs. Without the right nurse scheduling software, you miss opportunities to improve nurse retention, support patient safety, and establish your organization as a great place to work in the minds of the nursing community. 

Look for platforms that connect you with pre-qualified, credentialed nurse professionals who can fill your toughest individual shifts and long-term contract assignments while breaking the risk of unreliable staffing agencies

Your journey to nurse scheduling practices that retain and attract the stars you’re looking for is probably shorter than you think. We want to invite you to explore nurse scheduling software that allows you to check the past performance of your contract labor, rating their clinical performance and professionalism with your organization—so you know you’re working highly reliable nurse professionals that fit your needs. You can start that process here


Megan is a business writer with over 15 years’ experience in healthcare enterprise technology. She holds an MBA and B.S. in Healthcare Administration. She now keeps an ongoing eye on the latest developments and successes in healthcare admin technology and the people who use it to build a better world for providers, patients, and their care communities.


Struggling to Fill Shifts?

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