How to Improve Nurse Retention: 8 Strategies for 2024

Last Updated on April 12, 2024

Nurse Retention Strategies from CareerStaff Unlimited

How can employers improve retention at a time when almost half of all healthcare professionals think of quitting their jobs? Finding the answer begins with understanding the causes of that turnover, and then working to overcome them. As we move into 2024, here’s a closer look at how nurse retention strategies have evolved, and how today’s leaders are putting them into practice.

Why Nurse Retention Strategies Matter

Nurse retention strategies haven’t always been a priority in healthcare. Some organizations may view a high churn rate simply as the cost of running a busy facility. That may have worked in the past — but the ongoing nurse shortage makes it a less feasible option going forward.

A recent McKinsey & Company report predicts a shortfall of as many as 450,000 registered nurses (RNs) in the United States by 2025. And that general shortage is likely to make the backfilling of those positions — which is essential to maintain care for most positions — difficult or even impossible, no matter where a facility is located. 

In addition, turnover is expensive. According to data cited by the American Nurses Association (ANA), it can cost as much as $51,700 to source and hire an RN. That’s more than half of the yearly salary for that RN in most places, according to our recent nurse salary report. And those expenses quickly escalate when turnover is high.

Nursing turnover can be costly in other ways, too. Research suggests that when a facility is understaffed, its workers have a greater tendency to commit errors. And that can prolong length of stays or lead to readmissions, both of which have a direct financial impact.

Understanding Why Nurse Turnover Happens

Why are today’s employers scrambling to optimize their nurse retention strategies? According to a survey cited in a 2023 Advisory Board Briefing, more than half of healthcare workers said that labor shortages were actively causing them stress. Many also feel that they’re not supported despite the long hours they work.

And many simply feel underpaid. Only 41% of healthcare professionals feel fairly paid for their contributions “to the success of the organization,” the survey notes. In addition, 31% say they don’t feel valued as an employee. And 27% feel that their mental health is worse than it was a year ago.

That’s not all. Experts have pointed out that high error rates associated with understaffing can lead to “profound psychological effects” among nurses and clinicians. Feelings of guilt, anger, depression, and inadequacy can all arise from errors both real and perceived. And the result could be even higher rates of burnout and turnover.

Related: 4 Ways to Cut the Cost of Turnover in Healthcare Staffing

Strategies to Improve Nurse Retention in 2024

What can leaders do to meet these challenges? Although there’s no guaranteed solution for any given facility, there are a few best practices that can apply almost everywhere. So, the best nurse retention strategies for 2024 and beyond will likely involve a combination of the following best practices.

#1: Update Pay

Raising pay is usually the most effective strategy to help ensure nurse retention. It’s often been front and center in the demands made by striking nurses in recent months, for instance. And the shortage makes it easy for dissatisfied nurses to find other, higher-paying jobs somewhere else when those demands aren’t met.

> Pro tip: Employers should consult our recent nurse salary report for an overview of nurse pay expectations in the areas where they operate.

#2: Upgrade Benefits

When updating pay isn’t possible, organizations can compensate by improving the benefits they offer. Sign-on and referral bonuses can help nurses earn more while requiring less financial commitment from employers. Other benefits that can help meet financial concerns include tuition assistance, student loan repayment programs, childcare reimbursement, more generous 401(k)s and retirement packages.

#3: Offer Flexible Scheduling

Giving nurses more control of their schedule can help offset the stress of having to occasional overtime shift. This can mean including them in scheduling, and giving them the choice of, say, which weekends they’d prefer to work. Another method is to use contingency workers to give core staff the time they need to take some much-needed time off.

#4: Implement Float Pools

Float pools offer another strategy to improve scheduling and nurse retention. This nurse staffing model gives employers the flexibility to limit overtime required by core staff when patient census shifts. And giving nurses the chance to work on a float pool means letting them work on a reduced schedule — as opposed to maybe leaving their job altogether.

Younger nurses especially enjoy this benefit. “Millennial nurses and the next generation nurses really loved the ability to be able to work in adjacent areas and have that flexibility,” explains Wolters Kluwer Chief Nurse Anne Dabrow Woods, DNP, RN, CRNP, ANP-BC, AGACNP-BC, FAAN, “and also a lot of times the float pool gives them more flexibility in their schedules.”

> Pro tip: Consider implementing an external nurse float pool using a third-party staffing provider.

#5: Offer Career Development

Providing more professional development opportunities is another nurse retention strategy that also serves as an employee benefit. It can help nurses feel more satisfied with their current role by actively developing important skills for the future. It also helps employers by expanding skills, certifications and competencies among core staff.

Some ways to expand career development programs include:

  • Hiring or appointing career coaches among nursing staff
  • Reimbursing nurses for continuing education (CE)
  • Creating a clearer path for internal promotion
  • Setting up mentorship programs
  • Offering residency programs focused on nurturing new nurses

#6: Create a Positive Workplace Culture

According to NurseJournal, many nurses value culture “over compensation.” And this goes hand-in-hand with a focus on professional development. After all, a culture of learning and self-fulfillment is more likely to inspire retention.

Other ways to build a better workplace culture include protecting nurses from violence and bullying, improving communication across departments, providing self-care guidance, and supporting mental health and wellness initiatives.

#7: Listen to Nurses

Simply listening to nurses can help keep them happy with their jobs. Too often, these voices are all but lost in busy facilities. Giving them a forum to speak and be heard — and making them feel valued — can go far toward boosting your nurse retention strategies. It can also give managers a chance to discover more specific reasons for turnover, and address them accordingly.

#8: Adhere to Staffing Ratios

In theory, avoiding understaffing — and the burnout that too often comes with it — is a simple matter of adhering to recommended nurse-to-patient staffing ratios. In practice, though, this goal can be hard to nail down. The good news is that there are more methods than ever for doing so, from implementing float pools and flexible staffing programs to using contingency workers to fill out busy shifts.

Achieve Your Nurse Retention Strategies with CareerStaff

Looking to optimize your nurse retention strategies? Certified by The Joint Commission, you can trust CareerStaff to deliver the nurse sourcing and recruitment solutions you need to meet your goals. You can learn more about our workforce solutions here, or request staff now.