The biggest challenge for all chief nurses and HR directors is ensuring you have enough nurses to provide high-quality, safe care now – and in the future. Nursing Times brought together directors of nursing and HR from around the country in September to share ideas on how we can keep our nursing workforce safe, sustainable, and supported in their professional development.
Hosted in the Nursing Times office in Old Street, London, our guests were given the chance to briefly pause from their demanding schedules to explore some of the most challenging issues facing healthcare – how to recruit, retain and motivate the nursing workforce.
Jenni Middleton, editor of Nursing Times, opened the session by reviewing and reflecting on Nursing Times Learning, our online resource that was designed to aid nurses complete their CPD cost-effectively and at a time that is flexible enough to suit them.
“Nursing Times Learning was initially designed to help support healthcare organisations with revalidation,” she notes. “We reviewed The Nursing and Midwifery Council guidance and built a platform to support nurses through this new process.
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”But trusts also started promoting this for more than just a means of getting through revalidation – but as an employee benefit, to encourage new nurses and support existing staff through all the stages of their career.”
This discussion led us to ask our guests about the employee benefits and structures they have in place to help maintain and boost morale – and skills – in their workforce, as well as any new systems they have considered that would take their nurses to the next level.
Our top takeaways from the 2016 Nursing Times Learning Roundtable are:
1. Provide a ‘Career Pathway’ or ‘Career Clinic’ for your nursing teams
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As a director, you can provide your staff with guidance as they map out possible career paths and explore new avenues within nursing.
During these periods of personal development, your guidance can help them grow within your organisation, allowing for the retention of invaluable staff members. Some trusts have an internal transfer process to enable staff to try out a new area of nursing. This operates for either a limited window of time every year (a bit like the transfer window for football clubs), or it runs throughout the year with someone dedicated to attracting staff to try some other areas of the trust that may be struggling to recruit. It can be a great way to retain and encourage your staff, and can be accomplished through taster sessions, temporary secondments, or a full transfer.
Managers were talking about the challenge of helping staff to advance and improve against the backdrop of post-graduate education cuts. These cuts require you to think differently about investing in your team. It might be beneficial to consider bringing education and mentoring programmes in-house or consider online learning to more effectively engage your teams.
Either way, the bottom line should always be fostering opportunities for your team to flourish.
2. Be more flexible
Increased flexibility can be as simple as taking time out from the working environment to listen to staff’s needs and challenges but it can also mean, at an organisational level, encouraging a culture change.
Don’t be afraid to try new ways of working. For example, flexible rostering can have a positive impact. When some of your team members need to work reduced hours – because of their health, their families, their desire to further their studies, or their age – piloting various rolling shift patterns can give these nurses more control over their schedules and more room for balance in their lives.
While it might feel challenging in the short term, suggesting career breaks and sabbaticals to those high-risk employees is an exercise in flexibility and it is also a way to support your staff at the different stages of their careers.
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3. Understand your workforce
Your staff members all have distinct styles, approaches, and motivations when it comes to nursing. To fully support your team, you have to provide a positive working environment that caters to their age, interests, and level of experience.
For instance, younger generations have grown up with technology and this media is embedded in the way they interact with the world, which means they respond faster to changes in technology, and will expect technology to work for them – both at home and at work.
It’s a generalisation, but some of the older generation of nurses might find some pieces of technology more challenging, or more cumbersome than traditional methods of working and will need support if you introduce a system with which they have not worked before.
In both cases, it is important to understand your workforce, and speak to all the nurses on your team about the level and scope of technology that best fits them.
Another way to understand your workforce is by training and supporting team leaders. As a director, you might not be able to regularly meet all the teams around your organisation, but by investing in team leaders who will meet them, you can provide a frontline of support for your staff. Because these team leaders are on the ground, they can spot people at risk and work to develop a strong community.
4. Hold ‘Retention Interviews’
With the pressure to recruit nurses into vacant roles, you might often forget to concentrate on nurturing existing talent within your organisation. Not losing staff that are happy and motivated is even more important against this backdrop of a recruitment challenge so you could introduce “retention interviews.”
These interviews invite long-standing employees to explain to management why they have stayed within the trust and profession for the time that they have.
Retention interviews would allow management to ask long-serving staff “What makes you stay?” which could help highlight what your organisation is doing well so that you can promote this to current and prospective employees. In addition you can find out what has nearly made them leave or would make them leave, so you can discover some areas that may need work.
All nurses need role models, and with many experienced staff members on your team, you have a wealth of knowledge around you. Allowing those with a long service record to share their memories, testimonials, and reasons for staying with your trust will help your team connect to your organisation and feel inspired. People always believe those people doing the jobs they do themselves, so having a nurse as a role model is inspiring but also credible.
5. Be creative with your Employee Benefits
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When it comes to employee benefits, the one size fits all approach is often ineffective. It might be profitable to design targeted initiatives for the different groups within your organisation.
Similarly, when you consider the careers of your staff, bear in mind that some nurses will prefer a structured framework for their further education via formal education routes, whereas some may opt for bite size learning or demonstrating their skills in practice.
The most effective way to help the nurses within your organisation grow and develop is to find a pace that suits them, and you can only do that by talking to them.
Some team members might respond positively to receiving small incentives or acknowledgements for the hard work they provide. Many trusts get thank you cards printed up and chief nurses hand write them to make staff feel special. Small gestures such as this can greatly bolster staff morale. However, this approach might not be right for everyone, so it is important to understand how your team is motivated.
A clear message from around the table was that we all need to be better at thinking creatively about our recruitment and retention strategies and start to harness the passions within our teams to develop a greater sense of loyalty and community within our organisations.
The discussion highlighted that there are challenges with the one-size fits all approach but with the use of technology, there are opportunities to develop personalised benefit packages that allow the individual to pick and choose what resources they use and enjoy.
Nursing Times believes that if you get your staff experience right, and build a strong identify within your organisation, the patient experience will be greatly improved. Nursing Times Learning is helping build this framework with trusts such as University Hospitals of North Midlands and Barts Health NHS Trust.
For further information about this roundtable or to find out more about Nursing Times Learning, please contact Hani Abdel Sayed on Hani.AbdelSayed@emap.com