• human resource management;
  • job satisfaction;
  • nurse management;
  • retention

Aim  This paper describes the central themes nurses identify as important to their overall evaluation of their work. In particular, this paper highlights how the context of the nursing shortage interacts with what nurses understand to be satisfying about their work.

Background  On the brink of a current and enduring nursing shortage in the US, this study provides Nurse Managers with an understanding of the dimensions of work satisfaction which they can then utilize to improve retention of incumbent nurses.

Method  Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 currently employed nurses to explore the concepts that shape their work satisfaction. The nurses, 25 to 55 years old, were predominantly female and Associate Degree or Baccalaureate prepared.

Results  Nurses have both intrinsic and extrinsic satisfiers in their work. The traditional satisfiers (pay and benefits) are not the principle satisfiers of today’s nurses. In the context of shortage, the aspects of nursing that are the most rewarding are the aspects that are most often sacrificed in the interest of ‘getting the job done’. Nurses are finding it difficult to continue to do ‘more with less’ and are frustrated they are not able to provide the care they were educated to be able to deliver.

Conclusions  The description of the dimensions of work satisfaction can provide insight for Nurse Managers and administrators who are interested in improving both recruitment and retention of nurses. Areas identified worthy of focus in retention efforts include: increasing autonomy; reallocating work in a more patient-centred way; creating systems to recognize achievement in the areas of mentoring nurses, educating patients and personal growth in practice; creating meaningful internal labour markets; and enhancing supervisor and administrative support.

Implications for nursing management  Managers and administrators should focus on the satisfiers nurses identify if they wish to retain nurses. The traditional focus on extrinsic rewards will not likely be sufficient to retain today’s nurses. Retention activities aimed at improving satisfaction with the organization of nursing care, support for professional development and recognition of nurses’ intrinsic satisfiers are recommended to nurse managers.