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Giving nurses a voice through ‘listening to staff’ conversations to inform nurse retention and reduce turnover

23 June 2022
15 min read
Volume 31 · Issue 12


Health and social care employers in the UK cannot afford to lose nurses given the current nursing workforce crisis. A variety of staff engagement initiatives aim to improve employee retention. This article describes how Listening to Staff (L2S) events were used as part of a service review to inform nurse retention strategies in one acute hospital trust. Over a 3-year period, 576 nurses took part in L2S events that examined nurses' perspectives of teamworking and support as well as career plans in areas with high nurse turnover rates. Comparative content analysis was used to analyse narrative data, which informed managers' retention plans. Examination of retention data before and after L2S events showed nursing turnover decreased, suggesting a variety of strategies to retain staff may have improved nurse retention. Findings imply capturing nurses' perceptions through staff engagement events may offer solutions for nurse retention.

Nurses employed in the UK today are working in a pressurised service that is struggling to meet health and social care demands; this is made worse by high vacancy and staff turnover rates. NHS workforce statistics report a worrying picture, with 34 000 UK nursing vacancies, equating to one in 10 vacant posts (The King's Fund, 2021a; NHS Digital, 2021), and 28% of nurses and health visitors in England leaving the NHS within the first 3 years of service (The King's Fund, 2021a).

The nursing profession is also contending with high attrition rates on preregistration nursing courses. For example, 24% of those starting a nursing degree either do not graduate or do not graduate within the expected time frame (Buchan et al, 2019). On a positive note, in February 2021, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (2021) recorded 60 130 UK university applications to study nursing, an increase of 32% on the previous year. The increasing number of students applying for nursing has been attributed to people being more aware of what nursing entails (BBC News, 2021).

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