Ways to Improve Nurse Engagement (And Why You Should Start Today)

Ways to Improve Nurse Engagement

Aliza Benson’s story should be a source of inspiration for schedulers and directors of nursing who want to improve their nurse engagement strategy. Aliza is a prime example of how the Great Resignation has impacted post-acute care and driven up turnover rates. She recently left work with a nursing home, going back to school to study social work. 

As COVID-19 transmission continues and discharges to nursing homes drop, many of your nursing professionals are likely considering similar decisions—meaning now is a critical time to improve your retention rates by refreshing your approach to nurse engagement. 

Why Nurse Engagement and Retention Matter

An effective nurse engagement and retention strategy starts with understanding why reduced turnover is so critical to the value you provide to your organization. 

A blow to your reputation

Skilled nursing facilities have been hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic and have become known as hotbeds of infection. One side effect is that discharges have dropped—from the fourth quarter of 2020 to the third of 2021, they fell almost 2.5%. This means that nurse engagement will be directly related to how much the public and other providers trust organizations like yours. 

The permanent shock of a pandemic

Most nursing homes lost a significant numbers of workers and many are struggling to meet minimum staffing levels. While this is challenging, the most concerning part is that some professionals think the loss might be permanent. 

Facilities still leaning on pre-pandemic nurse engagement and retention practices will likely find that what they did yesterday won’t help them keep up in a new world of challenges. 

COVID continues—especially for nursing homes

While much of the world has relaxed, COVID-19 is still causing significant clinical problems for nursing homes. Mortality has dropped for the general population, but older adults are making up a growing percentage of deaths. Rates have jumped from 24% in January to 40% in September for adults over 65. This age group makes up 90% of all deaths. 

Your facility needs you to hold on to every nursing professional possible as they weather a new stage of the COVID-19 storm. 

Management needs low turnover rates

High-turnover has long been linked to lower levels of quality in nursing homes, and today, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) collects data and adjusts your Star Ratings based on attrition. 

Your administration and leadership are highly concerned with their Star Ratings and will probably look positively on any contribution you can make to keeping them stable and moving in the right direction. 

Get a Fresh Start on Your Nurse Engagement and Retention Strategies

So what does this mean for someone in your position? It means that you can create new strategies to retain and engage nurse professionals—strategies informed by the choices CNAs, LPNs, and RNs are making right now.

Figure out what turnover looks like for you

Paying attention to national and regional trends is important, but ultimately you’ll get the best and most useful information right where you are. Your nursing staff are devoted, caring professionals who want to make a difference, so taking the time to talk with and listen to them can go a long way. 

You can find value in exit interviews, surveys of existing staff, tracking turnover metrics, and even informal conversations. Keep a list of recurring complaints, such as:

  • Low pay for the workload
  • Health and disease transmission concerns
  • Feeling undervalued
  • Not being able to deliver quality service
  • Considering other types of work, such as retail, social work, or other types of nursing

Learn from other fields

If you find out that your staff are leaving for a particular employer or type of work, don’t pass up this opportunity to pick up useful information for your new approach to nurse engagement. 

For example, if your staff are leaving for retail jobs, is it just because of higher pay—or are they also drawn to a more flexible or predictable schedule? Do they have more opportunities for growth and advancement? Or do these other employers simply offer a work environment that seems safer and more pleasant?

You can use this information to tailor your approach to nurse engagement and launch new conversations with your remaining staff. 

Look at your hiring processes

Great retention and engagement start with great hiring. It’s important to use your interviewing and onboarding processes to prioritize applicants who will make your engagement and retention work easier. 

For example, some candidates might “like older adults” or think they do, but might not understand the nature of work in nursing homes. This is where practices like shadowing an experienced caregiver for a day or two can help you get a feel for their strengths, reactions, and language—e.g. how they refer to residents and whether they understand that your facility isn’t just a “workplace” and instead, somewhere where people live. 

Clarify and celebrate opportunities for growth

Providing opportunities for education and promotion is important—and so is communication. 

Offer opportunities for advancement that are clear and easy to understand. This can include paid training and on-the-job educational opportunities, as well as chances to pick up new skills in their current positions. Most importantly, though, toot your own horn a little. Create benefits you’re proud to offer and occasionally remind your staff of all the potential growth options you provide for post-acute professionals. 

Give them the gift of improved scheduling

You’ll likely find that many of your staff have roaming employment eyes because they want better schedules and more flexibility. 

You can give them what they’re looking for by building a float pool that takes some of the pressure off your full-time staff. And by using technology that eases your scheduling burden, you can prioritize shifts based on difficulty to fill, quickly routing work to the right float pool nurse and allowing your full-time staff to rest easy on their off days. 

Enhance safety and quality

Improving safety and quality can go a long way in standing out as a great place to work for your nurse professionals. Almost one out of every three post-acute nurses reports that organizations ignored safeguards to get work done during the pandemic—45% of those said the situation hasn’t improved. This is an opportunity for organizations like yours to stand out from other post-acute work environments as a safe place for post-acute nursing professionals to work. 

Almost 30% of post-acute nurses are looking for something new, and you can be their fresh start. By supplementing your full-time staff with strategic use of per diem nurse professionals, you can reduce burnout of your existing staff, reduce turnover, and step confidently into a new era of nurse engagement at your facility.

Megan-Williams-Headshot

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.

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