Nursing: 15 ways to boost engagement and retention

By Michelle Taylor*
Tuesday, 19 April, 2022

Nursing: 15 ways to boost engagement and retention

With the existing and projected nursing shortage1 across Australia, addressing retention and engagement is now more urgent than ever — but it doesn’t have to be as hard as it is made out to be.

The two key components of any retention and engagement strategy involve educating the core leadership group to value their teams and engender a sense of trust. The nursing workforce is a thinking, knowledgeable workforce and when they feel that their knowledge is appreciated, they suffer less burnout and relationships and performances flourish2.

It may seem like a soft approach to a hard problem, but a raft of research shows the severity of the issue and points to this as a key solution. A 2020 meta-analysis of 10 papers exploring the retention of community nurses revealed three key reasons for leaving: work pressure, working conditions and lack of appreciation by managers3. A 2014 review of 730 Dutch nurses reported similar findings. In a questionnaire that explored what would stop staff working until retirement, factors such as job satisfaction, work pressure, autonomy, appreciation and support from senior management plus lack of educational opportunities were identified as some of the key reasons4.

Two US hospitals recently mitigated the risk of burnout by cultivating a culture of respect that includes staff development opportunities5. In “one of the hardest years in healthcare”, they managed to maintain high levels of staff engagement.

Knowing how to value your team is one of the many leadership skills that can be taught. In my experience as a healthcare leadership consultant and psychologist, nurse leaders want to keep their team happy, but don’t know what needs to be done to achieve that. For example, a number of the leaders at a recent leadership program couldn’t believe that they didn’t really know how to listen properly, and it wasn’t for lack of caring. Learning these skills has helped many of these leaders and has helped engage some previously disengaged team members into key projects in the unit.

Below are 15 simple ways to value your staff:


  • Seek regular feedback, ask your staff what they think, every day.
  • Ask for input as a leader. “How can I do better?”
  • Follow up with conversations so they know you have taken them seriously.


  • Keep your team up to date with strategies, goals and updates.
  • Say your team member’s name when you communicate with him/her.
  • Say yes to learning your team’s learning opportunities.
  • Learn the give languages of appreciation at work and implement them — words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gift giving and physical touch (high five, touch shoulder if appropriate).
  • Tell nurses how they contribute to achievement.
  • Say thanks for your help today and look them in the eye when you say it.
  • Always talk respectfully about others. Even though the person may not be listening.
  • Be assertive. Value your own needs and thoughts. Assertiveness and listening go hand in hand with win/win.


  • Listen to their point of view. Nothing says “I care about you and value you” more than listening.
  • If you can’t listen now, say “I’m sorry I’m going to have to cut this short. Can we catch up at the end of the shift?” and mean it when you say it.


  • Look for their strengths. And say them out loud to others. Foster a culture of appreciation.
  • Accept differences and embrace them and acknowledge that diversity is important and uniqueness rather than sameness is precious.

Lastly, cultivate a culture of curiosity and awareness in your leadership team, so you can notice the impact of your strategies. You can start to be a part of the nursing narrative that looks for potential opportunities rather than close situations and people.

*Michelle Taylor is an ex-critical care nurse turned psychologist and healthcare leadership coach at C4 Consultancy. The focus of her work with healthcare and social sector executives, departmental heads and directors of nursing is to make work and workplaces too good to leave.

1. Buerhaus, P. Auerbach, D. Staiger, D. (2009) The recent surge in nurse employment: causes and implications. Health Aff, 28(4) 657-668 (Millwood)

2. Yeager, V. A., Wisniewkis, J. M. (2017), Factors that influence the recruitment and retention of nurses in public health agencies. 132(5) 556-562.

3. Chamanga, E., Dyson, J. Loke, J., McKeown, E.(2020). Factors influencing the recruitment and retention of registered nurses in adult community nursing services: an integrative literature review, Prim Health Care Res Dev, doi: 10.1017/S1463423620000353

4. Maurits, E.E., E de Veer, A. J., van der Hoek, L. S., L., & Francke, A. L. (2015). Factors associated with the self-perceived ability of nursing staff to remain working until retirement: a questionnaire survey. BMC Health serv Res, 2(15). DOI: 10.1186/s12913-015-1006-x

5. Better never stops: The road to real results with Virginia Mason Institutes approach for Health care improvement

Image credit: © Yalanskyi

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