In 2021, the number of registered nurses dropped by more than 100,000—the most it has ever dropped in 40 years. As if that wasn’t concerning enough, in a survey of nurses conducted in January 2022, 52% responded that they intend to leave or are considering leaving their positions. Their top reasons for leaving were insufficient staffing, work negatively affecting their health and wellbeing, and the inability to deliver quality care consistently. Eighty-nine percent of nurses in that same survey responded that their organization is experiencing staff shortages. Additionally, 60% of acute care nurses reported feeling burned out, and 75% reported feeling stressed, frustrated, and exhausted.

It’s never been an easy time to be a nurse. But given the circumstances, the last few years may encompass the most difficult time to be a nurse. While some readers may be skeptical that a solution of additional dollars toward nursing salaries or bonuses aren’t sufficient to tackle this challenge, lifting the hood on what fundamentally drives people to make life choices (e.g., regarding their careers) can provide a clear understanding for a more sustainable, effective solution.

To try and address this crisis, employers have turned to financial incentives to attract and keep nurses. A survey of hospital executives showed two in every three respondents were offering hiring bonuses, and more than half of the respondents surveyed were improving pay packages.

For example, the Colorado Department of Human Services is offering nurses hiring bonuses from $7,000 to $14,000. Similarly, the West Virginia University Health System is offering bonuses from $5,000 to $15,000. The highest noted so far is Monument Health, offering a sign-on bonus that is available up to $40,000.

However, money may be able to attract staff, which would fix the insufficient staffing issue and, in turn, the nurse-to-patient ratios enabling nurses to deliver quality care to their patients—but that’s only part of the issue. How are employers addressing the negative effect that work has on nurses’ health and wellbeing? And if they aren’t, how long will they be able to retain staff? It’s like the psychological saying goes: “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Likewise, nurses can’t provide quality care for the wellbeing of their patients when their own wellbeing is suffering. Furthermore, according to a report by Deloitte Insights, “[m]ultiple studies have tied employee health and well-being with organizational productivity, engagement, and profitability. Low attention to the employees’ [drivers of health] prove to be a blind spot for organizational growth.”

In harnessing Jobs Theory, executives should ask nurses questions pointed at unpacking the circumstances of the situation, what is pulling them to want to leave, and if there are any circumstances that are keeping them from doing so. Analyzing and listening to their answers with a reflective mindset will enable executives to identify long-term, sustainable solutions.

Read the full article about nursing crisis by Emmanuelle Verdieu at Christensen Institute.