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Research shows nurses need support in the workplace


Steve Spinks
24 January 2014
Workplace relationships between nurses is an important predictor of staff turnover, according to research from Southern Cross University.

Professor Yvonne Brunetto, from the Southern Cross Business School, was the lead researcher in a study that focused on the world’s nursing workforce and the triggers that cause turnover in the nursing profession. Four separate papers have been published in the Journal of Nursing Management and the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

“The important message in each of the four papers is that the quality of workplace relationships – with management in general, with the supervisor, and between colleagues – is an important antecedent/predictor of nurse outcomes,” Professor Brunetto said.

“In particular, workplace relationships affects how engaged nurses are on the job, it affects their perception of wellbeing in the job, it affects how committed nurses are to a hospital and all of these factors affect whether a nurse is prepared to stay nursing.”

According to Professor Brunetto, nurses worldwide are in short supply and one cause is higher than average turnover rates.

“This is a global healthcare management issue because nurses are expensive to replace and the nursing shortage has an impact on patient safety, the ability to detect complications early and nurses’ wellbeing,” she said.

“There are many reasons for the shortage of nurses globally including not enough nurses being trained and an ageing population, as well as the actual physical and mental difficulties involved in nursing.

“Nursing is like other jobs, in that it involves undertaking both high and low level tasks, but it differs from other occupations because nursing involves emotional work as well as clinical work. This means that nurses have to regularly deal with patients, and their relatives, who are acutely ill or dying which are factors likely to increase the emotional element of their work.

“As the nursing cohort ages, the average age of nurses in Australia is in the mid-40s, the physical demands impacting on nurses can become a real strain and the physical wellbeing of nurses can become an issue. If nurses don’t have effective workplace relationships in place, then they may feel reluctant to ask others for assistance or support. It means they have no time to talk to patients because of their high workloads. It also means that even if a nurse is concerned about a patient, if they feel uncomfortable about seeking another nurse’s opinion, that patient may be at risk.”

However, Professor Brunetto found that when nurses have effective workplace relationships in place, they can ask for help if they have a few patients requiring a lot of care and most importantly, when nurses can ask for help, it reduces the likelihood (or the number of) ‘adverse events’ that can lead to bad consequences for the patient.

“So when hospital management values and promotes the importance of effective workplace relationships, everyone wins. Nurses are better off because they get the help they need in the ward and thereby their psychological wellbeing improves, patients are better off because they are getting more attention and the hospital is better off because there are less adverse events,” she said.

The full citations of the journal articles are available on request.

Photo: Professor Yvonne Brunetto.