Retain Happy, Healthy Nursing Staff with Wellness Programs

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Written by
Jenna Elizabeth
January 23, 2024

While studies are conflicting, most research shows that employers who express gratitude to their staff in some form can increase wellness in the workplace. If you oversee nursing staff, keep reading to learn how to keep nurses happy and how to choose the best wellness program for your nursing team.

But First, Do Wellness Programs Actually Work? 

Research shows that implementing wellness programs can effectively keep nursing staff happy and healthy, specifically when these programs help employees establish a good work-life balance. The main idea behind employee wellness programs is to promote healthy nurses by meeting their physical, mental, and emotional needs. Specific organizations, like Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation, are even committed to promoting the well-being of nurses by addressing issues related to safety, quality of life, mental health, physical activity, and rest. Generally speaking, prioritizing the health and happiness of nursing staff may help improve job satisfaction, reduce burnout, and increase nurse staff retention rates. 

However, more recent studies have shown that workplace wellness initiatives should be more targeted to receive a return on investment (ROI). For example, the RAND Wellness Programs Study, involving nearly 600,000 workers across seven companies, revealed that wellness initiatives don't immediately affect how much money employers save on staff healthcare costs. In fact, this study showed that only some lifestyle and wellness programs guarantee a significant ROI. On the other hand, this study showed that focusing primarily on disease management programs—which target employees with chronic illness—reduces costs significantly more. 

For example, chronic diseases that could raise costs and reduce productivity at workplaces include but are not limited to the following:

  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary heart disease
  • End-stage renal disease
  • Depression
  • High-risk pregnancy
  • Hypertension
  • Arthritis 

Thus, an employer looking to improve employee health and productivity may consider implementing an evidence-based lifestyle management program, such as disease management programs focusing on employees with chronic diseases. A disease management program helps employees manage their conditions with the support of multidisciplinary teams of healthcare professionals.

Disease management programs may include the following strategies:

  • Regular health screening
  • Nutritional screening
  • Remote-patient monitoring
  • On-site counseling
  • Home visits 
  • Reduced workloads
  • One-on-one coaching programs
  • Disability and return to work programs

While disease management programs may be a better way to address immediate health concerns, studies show that general wellness programs are still important in keeping nurse staff healthy, productive, and happy. 

4 Wellness Programs to Improve Nursing Retention

Some of the most effective wellness initiatives increase nurse retention by offering a positive and healthy work environment. With this in mind, successful wellness initiatives can provide nurses with self-care and stress-reduction opportunities. From yoga classes and gym membership discounts to flexible scheduling and on-site wellness screenings, participating in healthcare wellness programs that allow nurses to relax and reboot can help meet a nurse's physical, mental, and emotional needs. 

Creating engaging and creative employee wellness ideas may seem overwhelming to hospital administration and human resources staff, but it doesn't have to be that way. It's about reusing what has worked for other organizations rather than reinventing the wheel. Based on our research, the following are four of the wellness activities for employees that are most effective in retaining nurses: 

1. Promote Work-Life Balance with Flexible Scheduling 

While the typical nursing model only allows for a little flexible scheduling, there are ways healthcare facilities can lessen the workload of their full-time nursing staff. One example is for nurse supervisors or schedulers to encourage flexible scheduling. Facilities can provide flexible scheduling by implementing a fair scheduling system that makes planning nurse shifts in advance easier and eliminates scheduling uncertainty. These days, many sophisticated pre-scheduling systems allow nurses to instantly trade shifts with coworkers and plan their time off and vacation requests in real time. This type of fair scheduling can be beneficial during the holidays when hospital patient counts rise and staffing levels must be sufficient to ensure patient safety. 

Likewise, hospital administration and management should ensure that there are always enough nurses working shifts to ensure safe patient-to-nurse ratios. Therefore, if a nurse manager feels understaffed, they may consider contracting PRN nurses to fill gaps in coverage. Per diem nursing is a flexible work arrangement where nurses are contracted at the last minute to cover for staff members who call out. They may also be contracted in advance to assist during peak periods. As a result, per diem nursing can significantly lessen the strain on a facility's staff during spikes in patient admissions.

2. Offer On-Site Nutritional and Fitness Programs

When nurses feel good physically, they are more productive, which is true for almost everyone. Consequently, offering on-site nutritional and fitness programs is one way that healthcare facilities and managers can boost morale and productivity among their nursing staff. Fitness and wellness programs could include strategies such as hiring a fitness coach to come to a hospital and coach a small group of nurses for a few weekly training sessions. Employee health and wellness initiatives could also include providing a locker room with showers so that nurses who ride their bikes to work can shower, put on their scrubs, and feel great when they clock into their shifts.

Aside from on-site fitness programs, offering gym or yoga studio memberships is a more classic but effective incentive for managers looking to support their nursing staff’s health. Finally, facilities could provide nutritional counseling through various nutritional seminars or events to encourage nursing staff to make healthier food choices, develop better eating habits, and improve overall well-being.

3. Support Nurses with Children

Parenting, like nursing, is both a rewarding and challenging job. Parenting is also a 24-hour job. Fortunately, many employers realize this and provide parenting support and coaching as part of corporate wellness programs to help nurses who are also parents. A new approach called "parent coaching" aims to mentor parents by assisting them in developing skills to communicate better with their kids and developing healthy strategies for raising happy and healthy children. 

In parent coaching support programs, coaches work collaboratively with parents to help them gain insights, set reasonable goals, and create loving home environments. Healthcare facilities and managers could consider hiring an on-site parent coaching service or sending nurses who are parents to an off-site program and cover the costs. In addition to parent support programs, healthcare facilities can help their nursing teams by providing generous parental leave policies and childcare assistance programs. 

4. Say "Thank You"

Alongside wellness perks, disease management plans, and other unconventional health-promoting measures like "nap time" or "zen rooms," there's a more straightforward method to raise your nursing staff's morale. Even though gift baskets and other treats are great ways to honor nurses and their hard work, remember that sometimes all it takes is a simple "thank you" to make nurses feel valued for their work. For example, a simple way to show appreciation is to pull aside a nurse mid-shift and thank them for consistently having a positive attitude and providing exceptional patient care. Whether you are the chief nursing officer (CNO) or the nurse supervisor, this small but meaningful action will go a long way toward maintaining your nursing staff's sense of worth and appreciation while at work.

Foster a Healthier and Happier Workforce

At the end of the day, a happy nurse is a productive nurse. A nurse who feels unappreciated could experience burnout and fatigue over time. By establishing a positive and healthy work environment, healthcare facilities nationwide could increase job satisfaction and reduce turnover, thus reducing the cost of recruiting and training new nursing staff. 

Every nurse manager should reward their nurses for performing one of the most challenging tasks: keeping people alive and healthy. Implementing a few of the wellness programs mentioned above and following additional nurse retention tips can contribute to longevity and success in the workplace, benefiting both healthcare facilities and their nursing teams.

Additional Sources:

Blog published on:
January 23, 2024

Meet Jenna, a contributing copywriter at Nursa who writes about healthcare news and updates, empathy and compassion for nurses, how to show staff appreciation and increase retention, and guides that help nurses navigate career pathways.

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