According to a study cited in an Employee Benefits News article, it was determined the top three reasons employees leave a company. They are:²
- Career development
- Work-life balance
- Management behavior
In this article, I want to focus on the subject of career development and how it enhances retention and adds value to the organization as a whole. This topic covers a myriad of areas, but it truly starts with the onboarding process and continues throughout employment.
Why is the onboarding process so important? This is the time when new employees learn about the organization’s mission and culture. It is also the time when they learn about their job responsibilities and how their performance will be evaluated.
Indiana University Health has a program designed for new nurses that includes frequent meetings conducted with the clinical operations manager and the new nurse. This program was initiated because they recognized that new nurses have trouble organizing, prioritizing and delegating their work. Many new nurses express that they felt poorly prepared, resulting in feelings of incompetence, stress and being overwhelmed. In these meetings, relationships are built and insight to their career aspirations, work struggles and accomplishments are discussed.³
While formal education may not be an integral part of these meetings, the discussions that occur can definitely serve as a basis to develop individual educational plans based on need and to improve knowledge and skills in areas that are lacking. These plans will accelerate the acquisition of skills needed to be effective in their new role. Onboarding programs that provide education and mentoring of new nurses reinforce an organization’s commitment to the success of their employees.
While successful onboarding of staff is important, continuing education programs also significantly contribute to retention of staff. Due to the high cost of turnover per nurse, organizations cannot continue to lose the nurses they have. Organizations must focus on their retention efforts. In their blog of August 19, 2020, Alisha Cornell, DNP, MSN, RN, and Natalie Vaughn, MBA, recommend that organizations should start with five nurse retention strategies:4
- Be strategic during recruitment
- Establish a nurse residency program
- Make career development a top priority
- Promote a culture of learning
- Offer a flexible work schedule
Organizations are competing for nurses all over the country. Candidates often have a choice of many options. During the interview process, candidates are striving to present a solid first impression; however, it is important that organizations provide clear direction during the interview process and that the process must be professional. The skills a nurse offers are clearly important, but equally significant are the personal attributes a candidate brings to the organization. There must be an alignment of values.4 Organizations that have a culture that promotes learning will attract nurses who want to improve their skills and continue to advance their careers.
Establishing residency programs helps new nurses to adapt to their roles as professional and independent practitioners. Making additional educational programs available to nurses will promote the development of expertise in a particular specialty and can be an avenue for nurses to obtain degrees and certifications that will advance their careers. Professional growth is essential to providing quality of care and can enhance employee loyalty. It also provides qualified staff who can be considered for more advanced opportunities, which is a benefit to the organization. Leaders should explore ways to eliminate many of the barriers, such as cost and ability to schedule time off, to promote continuing education.
Providing in-house continuing education programs is one way to make it convenient and affordable. Having a library of recorded programs allows nurses to take advantage of education on their own schedules. In addition, there are many free online webinar opportunities. An example is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which provides many subjects intended to improve practice and introduce current guidelines.5 These webinars can be attended anywhere a nurse has online access at any time. There are many other organizations that provide courses to prepare nurses for certification and continuing education to meet certification requirements. Organizations that provide these opportunities and encourage career development will have employees willing to stay and wait for advancement opportunities, resulting in better retention.
Education and improving the work environment will increase retention. Clearly, in the last two years with the COVID outbreak, organizations have been presented with a challenge that no one could have anticipated. Burnout, mental and emotional exhaustion, and general fear of the disease and its unknowns have caused many nurses to consider leaving patient care settings. Stress and anger management programs should be considered as a mainstay in today’s healthcare environment.6
While it is patently evident that organizations offering free and flexible continuing education courses increase their ability to retain nurses, there are other important ways, such as recognizing their achievements when they complete certifications and/or degrees with meaningful celebrations. Acknowledgement from those in leadership roles demonstrates that they truly value what the employee has accomplished. Healthcare leaders must continue to explore and implement solutions to address the high turnover of nurses and to reduce the stress of those nurses currently working with staffing shortages. Both situations significantly impact the quality of patient care.