HealthSeptember 15, 2020

Measuring the impact of COVID-19 on job satisfaction and professional growth in nursing

Wolters Kluwer analyzed several recent surveys to learn how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted both job satisfaction and professional growth in the nursing industry. Nurses have endured the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, more so than any other segment of the workforce. The crisis has amplified their existing pressures, and it has introduced new industry and workplace uncertainties as well. These factors are disrupting consistent, year-over-year job satisfaction among nurses and driving them to look for new opportunities — some outside the profession entirely.

Nurses, by nature, are not stagnant. They have an inherent desire to advance their profession. But how has this changed in the wake of the pandemic, and how should companies looking to provide nurses with professional resources seek to engage them moving forward?

About our research

At the onset of the pandemic, Wolters Kluwer assessed the impact of COVID-19 on nurses — both institutionally, in terms of programs, as well as individually, in terms of job satisfaction and expectations. We also analyzed nurses’ educational plans and what resources they use to drive professional growth.

We’ve taken data from a variety of our surveys to inform this article, including:

  • Nursing Educational Plans Survey, n=1,151 (February to June 2020)
  • COVID-19 Pulse Survey, n=356 (May to July 2020)
  • Content Consumption Assessment, n=354 (July 2020)

With eight years of comparative data and a statistical significance of <±4.0% at 95% confidence interval, we believe the data from these studies are indicative of broader trends among nurses in the U.S. today.

Fast Facts

  • 21% of nurses are likely to look for a new nursing position
  • 11% of nurses, mostly from home healthcare, are more likely to get out of nursing entirely
  • Roughly half of nurses are looking for new jobs, whether they are happy in their roles or not
  • Most recruiting opportunities are in office-based and nonteaching hospital environments

Job satisfaction trends indicate uneasiness among nurses

In February 2020, at the cusp of the pandemic in the U.S., nurses were generally satisfied with their jobs. Only 30% expressed an interest in finding a new job, which aligns with figures Wolters Kluwer has seen year-over-year: a roughly 30% job dissatisfaction rate.

In March 2020, we asked nurses, “What is the impact of COVID-19 in relation to your job satisfaction?” At that time, 60% expressed interest in finding a new job, or roughly twice as many nurses compared to the month before. Nurses continue to be relatively happy in their jobs, but they are actively seeking other roles. This indicates they are uncertain about their futures.

Undoubtedly, nurses are thinking about their futures in the context of the pandemic and how it affects them in their current roles. One large contributor to this uneasiness is the fact that most don’t know when the pandemic and its disruptions will end — 60% say they have no idea. This creates a sense of permanence for the institutional changes they are witnessing, which we will explore next.

The individual impact of institutional changes

One way to determine how institutional changes driven by COVID-19 are impacting nurses is to look at how budgets are shifting within healthcare organizations. Unfortunately, many facilities are relying on short-term solutions, such as closing locations, reducing staff hours, and furloughing staff. Although nurses themselves are furloughed with less frequency than administrative and support staff, seeing their colleagues leave undoubtedly contributes to their reduced satisfaction.

Most recognize their organizations have postponed nonemergency procedures and surgeries (63%) and have increased virtual meetings or conferences (53%). Elective procedures and visits are key revenue drivers for most healthcare organizations.

What’s more, they are uncertain about the severity of changes that affect them directly. Most nurses (53%) are aware of budget cuts in the wake of COVID-19, but most (between 70% and 88%, depending on the budget) are uncertain of their size, and most (81%) don’t know when they will end.

There are three main budget lines that have been reduced or eliminated across organizations because of the pandemic. Reductions in these budgets will undoubtedly affect nurses’ perceptions of future opportunities in their current roles:

  • Hiring budgets. Nearly 60% of all nurses say their facility is having some sort of restriction in their hiring budgets, if not a complete freeze, as a result of the pandemic. Hiring was the most widely impacted budget among nurses in each category: academia, hospital teaching and nonteaching, and office-based roles.
  • Training budgets and continuing education (CE/CME) budgets. Cuts to these programs limit the advanced learning opportunities that contribute to greater satisfaction in the workplace. Our Nursing Educational Plans Survey indicates further education is a critical ambition among nurses, where 51% of staff nurses plan to pursue a higher nursing degree.

From a macro perspective, 61% of nurses expect it will take five months or more for the situation to improve at their organizations in general, and 22% expect it will take more than one year for the situation to improve. This level of uncertainty is unprecedented, and it will affect nurses’ future outlook for their field and their individual roles in particular.

How can you engage nurses successfully in this climate?

Nurses recognize that career advancement is not simply a byproduct of job dissatisfaction. Their motivations to better themselves academically have been persistent for years. What has changed is that more nurses are open to making some kind of career transition, and they are looking for a wider variety of resources to do so.

The demand for communication among nurses therefore requires a holistic approach. This applies to both content and formats, where the traditional means of networking and staying up-to-date — print media, discussions with colleagues, and, obviously, in-person events — are on the decline. Instead, nurses are adopting digital channels through increased utilization of e-newsletters, journal-specific sites, and the professional use of social media, our Content Consumption Assessment suggests.

Our recommendations, based on the research

The data provide some insights into which techniques will be effective for organizations looking to engage and recruit nurses for advanced learning, career advancement, or other opportunities. Here are some tips based on our findings:

  • For educators, emphasize alternatives to nurses’ “in-house” learning programs whose budgets may have dried up do to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider smaller programs for nurses who are not yet willing to invest in degree programs but might be in the future.
  • Nurses who like their jobs but are now looking for other opportunities may not know what they are looking for. Provide free “value adding” resources, such as articles and guidebooks, that will help nurses alleviate some of their uncertainty about their futures.
  • For digital placements like programmatic ads, emphasize benefits like “hirability,” “security,” “satisfaction,” and “meaningful contributions” nurses will make in new roles. Use images and language that help nurses visualize their future in those roles as well.

Wolters Kluwer helps companies connect with nurses on their terms, with exceptional results.

Contact us to develop your multichannel campaign to recruit qualified nurses.
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