In Australia, there is wide acknowledgement of the looming crisis in the aging nursing workforce resulting from the imminent retirement of a generation of ‘baby boomer’ nurses. In recent years, there have been fewer entrants to the nursing workforce as a result of lower birth rates and wider choices of career. There are also more and more nurses leaving the profession for less stressful and more satisfying jobs.
However, apart from research which seeks to highlight the problem, there is little evidence that the health industry has grasped the complex issue of implementing measures to assist nurses to remain in the workforce beyond the present average age of retirement should they wish to. There are a number of strategies that have been suggested which include increasing migration or training places, but one very real option is to review the skill mix of nurses and redesigning the type of work undertaken.
Nursing work is physically and emotionally demanding and there is often a prevalence of high workloads. Employers can benefit from redesigning job structures to shift from a structure with a heavy focus on patient care to one that focuses on administrative issues such as admission and discharge processes. Investing in improvements to the workplace and equipment is also recommended, to prevent physical injury when undertaking any patient care tasks.
Older workers can also be disadvantaged by technological developments which younger workers often pick up easily and quickly. Training programs for new technology should be delivered in two ways, with one designed specifically to relate to older workers. Often all that is needed is dedicated one-on-one time with an older worker for them to understand and engage with the technology at their own pace and in an environment where they are comfortable to ask questions. While younger workers are comfortable to jump straight in and try things for themselves, older workers appreciate more guidance and demonstrations help in ensuring their understanding.
Employers should engage in open communications with their older workers, asking them about their retirement intentions and encouraging them to offer their ideas and strategies to extend their working life in both full-time and part-time capacities.
Finally, contributions of older nurses should be recognised through human resource policy. Simple management actions such as implementing new policies and training and development initiatives for older workers can make them feel appreciated and more comfortable to consider their options when it comes to remaining in the workforce and reducing the nursing shortage.