12.5 Organizational Stress & Retention Cycle

The impact of inadequate stress management for health care personnel can greatly impact health care organizations. When harmful stress is not adequately addressed, burnout can rapidly become a burgeoning problem resulting in absenteeism, decreased productivity, decline in care quality, staff dissatisfaction, and employee turnover. Work environment and lack of workplace support often contribute to feelings of burnout and job attrition.[1] Organizations must recognize the significance of stress in regard to the cyclical nature it plays in the retention of employees. For example, if one employee experiences harmful stress resulting in depression and anxiety, this may influence their timeliness and attendance at work. If the employee begins to struggle, they may be more inclined to phone in as “sick time” for shifts or even be a “no show” for a scheduled shift. When this occurs, the burden of their absence is passed on to other employees on the unit. Calls for overtime, mandated stay, or increased client care assignments quickly increase the burden on the other members of the health care team. As a result, the team members experiencing increased workload feel an impact on their own job-related stress. The compounded stress can quickly overtax an individual who has been managing normal work-related stress. Many individuals who were previously self-managing stress may struggle under these increased role demands. When there is a decrease in an individual’s “downtime,” there is even less reprieve from the stressful work environment. As a result, the organization and health care system become even more overtaxed, and the cycle perpetuates itself among other staff.[2] Managers and directors often struggle with rehiring and orienting staff at a rate that is suitable to offset the stress cycle and decreased retention within the organization.

Promoting Nurse Retention

Nurse leaders must be proactive in finding solutions to address clinical nurse and nursing faculty shortages and high nurse turnover rates. The 2018 National Healthcare Retention and RN Staffing Report states the following data[3]:

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 233,000 new RN jobs will be created annually.
  • Forty-five percent of hospitals anticipate increasing their RN staff.
  • Hospital turnover is at 18.2%, an increase from previous years.
  • RNs working in emergency care, step-down, and medical-surgical units experience high turnover rates, with the highest rate of turnover for certified nursing assistants.
  • The average cost of each RN turnover is $49,500, resulting in an average hospital losing an estimated $4.4 to $7 million due to turnover.
  • Each percent change in RN turnover will cost or save the average hospital $337,500.
  • It takes approximately 2.5 months to recruit an experienced RN.
  • More than half of hospitals would like to decrease reliance on supplemental staffing.
  • For every 20 travel RNs eliminated, a hospital can save an average of $1,435,000.

Unfortunately, many nurse leaders struggle to receive organizational support for recruitment and hiring in a timely fashion. Demonstrating the need for staff replacement often cannot be established until a staff vacancy exists. As a result, the retention cycle is further compromised when workload is impacted due to staff vacancies during the recruitment and orientation process. Many frontline nursing staff may not be aware of the rigorous challenges that nurse leaders face when requesting administrative support for additional staff positions. Most organizations require executive-level approval for hiring, and unit productivity is examined for rationale that additional staff are needed. The time required for this investigation and executive-level approval can be very challenging for staff nurses who experience the workload burden during the vacancies. During this time frame, nurse leaders may struggle to maintain team morale while also acknowledging the organization’s need to be financially responsible in staff hiring.

It is important for all parties to remain engaged in their current work roles during the recruitment, hiring, and orientation periods of new nurses. Trust in one another during this time is critical, and all parties must remember the needs of clients receive top priority. Providing optimal care to the best of one’s ability is of the utmost importance even when experiencing staffing challenges. Additionally, staff, nursing leaders, and administrators within the organization must unite to find actionable solutions that acknowledge the impact of stress and reduce the impact of harmful stress contributing to the burnout of colleagues. There is no simple solution. All individuals must be united in exploring strategies to reduce the occurrence of burnout and seek to make change to enhance the health and well-being of all involved.

  1. Mercado. (2022). A cross‐sectional analysis of factors associated with stress, burnout and turnover intention among healthcare workers during the COVID‐19 pandemic in the United States. Health & Social Care in the Community. https://doi.org/10.1111/hsc.13712
  2. Chegini, Z., Asghari Jafarabadi, M. and Kakemam, E. (2019), Occupational stress, quality of working life and turnover intention amongst nurses. Nursing Critical Care, 24: 283-289. https://doi-org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.1111/nicc.12419
  3. Kroning, M., & Hopkins, K. (2019). Healthcare organizations thrive with shared governance. Nursing Management, 50(5), 13-15. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.numa.0000557781.40049.2d


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