What Nurses Want: 5 Tips for Retaining and Recruiting Nurses

What Nurses Want: 5 Tips for Retaining and Recruiting Nurses

Retaining and recruiting nurses of different age groups is a key skill for nurse leaders—one that will become increasingly crucial as nursing professionals continue to turn away from the field

For all the contrasts between Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z nursing professionals, you’ll find significant overlap in your most effective tactics. From those overlaps you can create a recruitment and retention strategy that’s effective across all age groups. Nurse leaders will need to hone their recruiting strategies to support established nursing professionals while also taking advantage of a “great influx of students” into healthcare.

1. Invest in Your Nurse Experience

Many efforts in healthcare, the Quadruple Aim, for example, put increasing emphasis on the provider experience as a central goal. Your nurse experience should be no different. 

Nursing leaders have a chance to reimagine the nurse experience. This reimagining can make retaining and recruiting nurses easier if you address work-life balance and improve the health and well-being of nursing staff. 

You might find some generational differences here, such as earlier-born generations of nurses being more likely to stay with one system for the bulk of their career and younger nurses being more mobile and prone to switching jobs for higher pay or a better experience. In both cases, though, a positive experience—especially one that is responsive to individual professional goals, and acknowledges nursing professionals as individuals—will be a powerful foundation for retaining and recruiting nurses. 

Look for opportunities to learn what makes your nursing staff feel respected and valued as professionals. Get creative with how you shape your working conditions and look for opportunities to uproot and refresh staffing models that are no longer serving your needs. 

2. Provide Training and Support

You’re working with staff of all ages who are eager to learn. This means that nurturing their natural curiosity to foster their growth and improvement can pay off. For example, successful nurse magnet programs across the country have used advanced training to attract eager candidates and bolster lower mortality and failure to rescue rates. 

Younger nursing professionals are emerging into the profession where, because of a global pandemic, they might have missed out on hands-on learning, deep training, and well-rounded experiences. Your more advanced nurses are also adjusting to a new world of care shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. As health information technology (HIT) has an increasing impact on nurse workflows, more experienced nurses can sometimes need more support, often having lower levels of perceived computer self-efficacy (with some harboring negative attitudes), and lower levels of change readiness. 

Your training and support initiatives should include financial support for professional development, resources for catching up with new and emerging technologies, and continuing education options (which provide the added benefit of helping you maintain compliance with annual CEU standards). Both groups need on-the-job training and support that acknowledges their experiences and where they might need assistance. 

3. Tout Your Mental Health Efforts

From job burnout to personal stresses, nurses across generations are voicing that they need mental health support—and they need to know you’re on their side. 

A study of almost 1,800 nurses from across 19 healthcare systems found that over half of the nurses surveyed reported poor mental and physical health and one out of three reported depression. It also found that depression was the leading predictor of self-reported medical errors. 

Share the efforts you’re making in promoting mental health at the system level and any prevention programs you might have in place. Be open with staff and recruitment candidates about how you and your leadership teams are taking steps to get in front of issues like anxiety, depression, risky substance use, burnout, and workplace incivility. 

4. Bridge Generations With Mentoring

One of your most prominent opportunities in addressing many of the challenges mentioned lies in making intergenerational connections through mentoring programs.

New nurses will naturally look for support from peers and experienced nursing professionals who have a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer those just coming on board. A beautiful example of how this can be executed can be found at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington in the medical intensive care unit (MICU). Their new nurses complete a 14-week orientation, made up of online exams, class time, and a preceptorship. The program was created to step in during the period their new nurses were reporting feeling a lack of support. 

The program guidelines include clear expectations for mentors including:

  • Treating the relationship as a friendship, including the expectation of confidentiality.
  • Providing advice, support, and assistance.
  • Alerting the mentor coordinator of issues in ability to commit to the program.
  • Making an effort to stick with the mentee check-in schedule.

5. Give Them Flexibility

A 2021 survey of nurses found that two out of three were reporting some interest in leaving the profession. But retaining your nurse professionals amid unprecedented attrition might come down to simply offering more flexibility. 

Gen X nursing professionals are known for their “work to live” attitudes, and younger nurses are much less dedicated to staying with one employer than prior generations. Both Gen Z and Millennial nurses want to choose their own schedule and are looking for options in both how they work and who they work for. Offering more flexibility can help you retain nurses of all generations—73% of survey respondents believed employers need to implement scheduling that’s more flexible for nurses. 

Look for opportunities to support improved staffing strategies with technologies that offer per diem, block booking, and contracts. Meeting your nurses with the flexibility they want can also help stave off the symptoms of burnout associated with issues like surprise double shifts or being overworked.

As you’re building a staffing strategy that supports the kind of nurse experience that attracts and retains multiple generations of nursing professionals, make sure to look for opportunities to employ new approaches to flexible staffing. When recruiting nurses this is an appealing feature for anyone interested in joining your team. 


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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